I have no great interest in politicians as individuals and am unlikely to buy any ex-PM’s memoirs, but in the case of Tony Blair’s effort (all over the newspapers today) I’ve come over all ‘literary critic’ because the extracts are a bit of a worry :
Despite their personal relationship, Blair admits that from the moment he was told of her [Princess Diana’s] death, he was “trying to work out how it should play”.
“I know that sounds callous,” he reveals. “I was genuinely in grief … but I also knew that this was going to be a major national, in fact global, event like no other … I had to work out how it would work out.”
‘I had to work out how it would work out’? A firmer hand needed by the editor, I think: that’s a really clumsy sentence and sounds like it was written by somebody with a limited vocabulary (which obviously isn’t the case). ‘I had to work out how it would unfold’ would have been better, or ‘I had to work out what might happen’. Give me the manuscript and a red pen and let me get to work, Mr Blair.
Literary criticism aside; good on him for giving all of his royalties and profits to the Royal British Legion. And to anybody who digs for an ulterior motive or sees the gesture a the sign of a guilty conscience at work (which certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, given that Tony Blair still thinks he did the right thing with regard to deploying British troops), I say the two things that I invariably say in the face of cynicism about the philanthropy of others:
Firstly: Motives don’t matter when it comes to making a charitable donation. If a celebrity donates money to a cause in order to get column inches or a company sponsors a charity to get positive PR, the result is the same – people get helped. And people who need the help of charities couldn’t give a toss about the reasons why the philanthropic gesture was made. People use this fear of how motives might be analysed as an excuse to do nothing. In the UK I think that the horrible, cynical media has a big part to play in this – they love nothing more than to cover a silver lining with the grey clouds of their waspish criticism.
Secondly: Nobody has a right to judge the philanthropic gestures of others. In particular, I have noted a bit of correlation between cynical attitudes about philanthropy and cynical attitudes about charities in general: often, the people who bleat about the Beckhams giving money to a children’s charity because it will get them on the front of Hello magazine are the same people who will complain because the Chief Executives of large charities earn suitably large charities, as befits their role as the head of a large and complex organisation. And in many cases I suspect that the cynics do nothing philanthropic themselves, and they make themselves feel better about their own miserable natures by criticising everybody else. I appreciate that I’ve made a bit of a sweeping statement there, but (without naming names) I have personal knowledge of people who would fall into this ‘be critical and cynical about everything’ category.
Let’s face it, everybody could do more to help the less fortunate people in society. Take me as an example: I donate money to charities on a monthly basis through my firm’s payroll giving scheme; I sponsor friends and colleagues when they take on fundraising activities for good causes; I’m a trustee of two charities; I’m heavily involved in the local operations of another charity; I’m a governor at a primary school; and I send my professional life encouraging other people to support good causes with their time, skills and money. In many people’s eyes this might seem like a pretty decent effort.
However, let’s not forget the following: I get paid a decent salary for the work that I do; the volunteering I have taken on does not cause me any great inconvenience beyond giving up a few evenings every month for meetings; the money that we donate to charities each money is a fraction of what we save into my pension and our ISAs (and a fairly small fraction, at that); and we don’t do anything more hands-on, like actually spend our weekends helping people. I’m not down-playing what I do already – I know that it’s fairly respectable – but it shouldn’t give me the right to criticise what anybody else is doing or not doing.
I know that I have made fun of celebrities for this very reason in the past, like when I read that the model Laura Bailey (who often mentions her charitable endeavours) spends £1,000 each time she gets a hair cut. That’s a flipping expensive hair cut and she could do a lot with that kind of money, but again: I really have no right to judge her. People could judge me just as harshly because I spent a lot of money on a posh handbag earlier this year and that money could have sponsored several children for the year, instead. And now I feel quite bad about buying that handbag, thinking of it in those terms. And also quite bad about judging Laura Bailey: after all, I don’t know how that compares to the amounts she might donate to charities every year, and in any event it’s none of my business. And now I wish that I hadn’t written anything to out myself as occasionally cynical about the philanthropic gestures of others, but I’m going to resist the urge to delete the previous few sentences in the interests of demonstrating my point. And as a lasting reminder to myself to not be such a dick in the future (in judging others, not in outing myself in this manner).
If anybody chooses to do something to help the wider world – by donating money, volunteering, working for a charity or whatever – we should collectively celebrate it. We shouldn’t grumble about whether or not they’ve given enough money or why they might have done it. That attitude is hardly likely to encourage more philanthropy, is it?