Tom Richmond: I’ll decide what charities I support, thank you

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THE credibility of the National Lottery took a knock when it was used by the last Labour government to bankroll “nanny state” ventures – rather than the national “good causes” envisaged at its inception by John Major.

It is a mistake that David Cameron threatens to repeat as he looks to breathe new life into his floundering Big Society initiative by paving the way for people to make charitable donations whenever they use a cashpoint.

If this notion is followed through to its logical conclusion, it will require some form of bureaucracy to distribute any money that is donated by this means – and, presumably, these donations will be used to subsidise key services that have seen their public funding cut.

What the Prime Minister fails to realise, however, is that people do not need to be told to give to charity. They already do so, supporting causes close to their heart at a time of their choosing.

This support runs far deeper than purchasing Christmas cards from a chosen charity – many people of my acquaintance make donations, or help in some other form, throughout the year and are determined to prioritise this commitment despite the squeeze on household finances.

They do so because they are particularly passionate about a particular cause – whether it be one of the many cancer charities following the loss of a loved one or a cause, like the Injured Jockeys Fund in my case, that stems from a lifelong interest in horse racing.

I do so because I have derived many years of pleasure out of this sport – and many great friends risk life and limb whenever they come under starter’s orders. Yet I also understand that this is not a priority for funding from public bodies.

As such, charitable giving should be a matter for each individual – rather than money being sent electronically, into a central pot, to help ease the Government’s conscience over the scale of its cuts, and society’s over-dependence upon the charitable sector.

I, for one, will not be participating in Cameron’s cashpoint venture – even if that means a Ministerial admonishment at some future date.

For the last time I heard such nonsense on the subject of cashpoints was when Tony Blair promised to drag young offenders off to the nearest hole-in-the wall machine to pay on-the-spot fines – and look what happened to that policy.

IN one eloquent and statesmanlike interview this week, David Miliband showed why he is a loss to Labour’s front bench – and diplomacy in general.

Speaking from Pakistan, the former Foreign Secretary sidestepped the row surrounding a discredited Gordon Brown’s non-appointment to the International Monetary Fund, saying that he no longer had to take such decisions.

He then accepted that his government’s gains during the Iraq war were outweighed by the negatives as the last UK service personnel left the liberated country – before warning about the calamity facing Pakistan as it comes to terms with the killing, on its patch, of 9/11 ringleader Osama bin Laden.

Pointing out that this was a nuclear-armed country, with a largely illiterate population set to expand out of all recognition, Leeds-educated Miliband added: “We should be engaging with Pakistan; on the other hand, I feel very comfortable speaking very plainly about the responsibilities that they have.”

Miliband did not say whether he was visiting Pakistan at the behest of his party, the Government or under his own volition. Nevertheless, he showed an understanding of the problem, and an ability to articulate the escalating crisis, that re-enforced the view that any return to frontline politics here would be a political and electoral game-changer.

TALKING of the Labour front bench, Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn, the Shadow Leader of the Commons, is one of the few politicians who appreciates the value of courtesy.

So, too, does his opposite number, Sir George Young, the bicycling baronet and Commons leader, who has now likened Benn to “Rory Bremner without the accents”.

A RANDOM thought. As Parliament was officially in recess when Barack Obama made his Westminster address on Wednesday, will those peers and MPs present be claiming travel and other expenses?

GIVEN that is extremely rare for patients to see their own GP after negotiating booking systems that make up the rules each day, I’m surprised that doctors could be paid extra if they give healthy living advice to overweight people.

Isn’t this what they should be doing anyway? If not, why is it not part of a GP’s job description?

HOW pleasant to visit the Dales market town of Masham – and not to discover any exorbitant parking charges. Instead, there was an honesty box asking motorists to contribute towards the upkeep of the area.

I certainly gave generously – as did every other driver passing through. And I certainly vowed to return. If only, other such towns were so enlightened...

MARK Ryan’s compelling biography of Harold Abrahams, Britain’s sprint pioneer of Chariots of Fire fame, shows why sport and politics do not always mix.

Campaigning for his mentor, Sir John Simon, in the Spen Valley shortly after the First World War, Abrahams – then at Cambridge – was bemused by the language of politics.

“I remember in the 1919 election somebody saying ‘Mr Lloyd George is a great artist’, and I remember saying, ‘Ah, yes, but we want the country governed, not the House of Commons decorating’.”