One evening thirty years ago, I attended a local Labour Party meeting with my father. The subject of the meeting has long since disappeared into far recesses of the memory, but the right of council tenants to buy their houses came into the discussions. The mainly middle class gathering expressed opposition to the policy of Conservative councils to sell houses, my father stood up to disagree. “Why shouldn’t working people have the chance to own their own house?”
The platform was surprised at a disagreement in the ranks and one of the officials looked at my father and said, “Are you a pragmatist or a socialist?”
My father responded, “Shouldn’t they be the same thing?”
Toeing the party line was never a strong point in our household. Thirty years on, the memory of that meeting in a village hall comes back with a new relevance.
Since those days, I have supported various Third World development agencies in the belief that they would make the world a better place. Mostly they have failed to make much difference; the most effective always being the small groups and the individuals working away in particular places. The big agencies have become top heavy, spending a bigger and bigger percentage of their income on their organization and less and less on projects at the sharp end. It has reached the point where one agency will spend its entire income from supporters in Ireland running its Irish office.
So where do I go in involvement with such an organization? Toe the party line and hope the situation will improve, or take the pragmatic approach and say that money given in good faith should go to its intended recipients?
It will not make much difference what I do, I have already been accused of ‘obstruction’ and the agency is so large it will roll on regardless, but it makes a difference to me – am I pragmatist or a “party man”? If the “party line” includes a lack of transparency and disingenuous comments, pragmatism has a great appeal.