Saturday, 3 November 2012

Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me....

I hesitate to call him a hero, but someone whose writing I really enjoy for its prickliness, originality, provocativeness, and when it comes down to it, its common sense, is James Delingpole. He's been a writer and blogger for the Telegraph and Spectator for some years, and recently stood (but has now withdrawn) as a candidate in the Corby by-election on an anti-wind farm platform. Anyway, he talks and writes fearlessly, to the frequent derision and abuse of others. I'm going to take a leaf out of his book, and risk hate mail forever more, by saying this - I'm really not sure about the Help For Heroes charity, and I kind of wish people didn't support it. Or more accurately, didn't feel they needed to support it.  One of the guys on our London to Paris ride last year was raising money for it, and I had to keep my thoughts under my helmet for 4 days.

Let me explain. I'm absolutely not saying for a moment that the poor buggers who come back from Afghanistan with mental or physical injuries shouldn't receive the best possible treatment. (Though frankly, I'm not sure what they're doing there in the first place; I'm not sure we've ever had the case made to us persuasively). Quite the opposite in fact; whether it's an income to support them for the rest of their life, state of the art prosthetics, long term psychiatric care, or all of this and more, the British government has a moral obligation to provide whatever's needed. It's the government that put them in harm's way, it's the government (which is all of us) that should deal with the consequences.

But there's the rub. The government should provide the best, and it should foot the bill. But it doesn't do the former, so it ends up not doing the latter either. It relies on a charity stepping in to do the things it should be doing, like providing emergency grants to servicemen and women. And when, in my view, we give funds to Help For Heroes, we're effectively letting the government off its moral duty, which in turn means it can continue to provide the second rate support it currently does. Whilst that's just my opinion, it is, ironically given my other politics, strikingly similar to the Marxist view of charity in general, which contends that charity is degrading and demoralising, and perpetuates and institutionalises inequality.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm picking on Help For Heroes. I suspect there are plenty of other charities where government ought to be playing a more prominent role, but realistically at the moment, that's not going to happen. Equally, one of the great uncommented scandals of the current age is the number of charities that only continue to exist because of central and local government funding, their public donations being negligible.  But Help For Heroes is different - a clearer line of sight between expectation and obligation would be harder to find. So next time you're tempted to put a couple of quid in one their collecting tins, don't. Spend the money on a stamp and some paper, and write two letters (because they still have more impact than e-mails). One to Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence, Whitehall, London SW1A 2HB, to make him aware of your disgust that he, his predecessors, and the British state break the moral contract with our armed forces every day of every month, year etc. And the other to your newspaper of choice, telling them what you've done and inviting them to expose examples of the inadequate support that's provided to wounded servicepeople.

Next week I really will write about cycling, promise.

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