Thoughts from the NCVO political conference (part 2)

After discussing the (potentially?) changing role of VCOs in the political sphere, the panel at NCVO's political conference last week moved on to address a question about the place of the VCS within the different political parties' visions for society. Or to use the turn of phrase of the questioner: 'Is the government/VCS love-in just a trend or is it here to stay?'

Shaun's view was that VCOs are becoming an arm of government and are too cowardly to resist this. As to whether this would continue, he put the ball firmly in our court but I got the feeling that he'd like the relationship to change, otherwise in his view the shape of the sector would change (clearly in his mind for the worse).

Rushanara felt that the different political parties had different agendas in relation to the VCS but when challenged to elaborate was unable to. I think she was expressing a feeling that I've heard expressed by many others, which is that although on the surface the political parties are saying similar things, surely there are some differences behind it. It's just hard to pin these down.

Peter had tried earlier in the debate to explain different historical perspectives, claiming that Conservative ideology fits more closely with ideas about philanthropy and community action than Labour ideology, which he desribed as traditionally hostile. This led to disagreements with Yasmin and audience members about the positives (or otherwise) of Victorian philanthropy! As for whether the current love-in would last, Peter felt it was here to stay as civil society is such an important part of the British public domain.

For my part, linking back to the last post about changing political engagement, I think that the role of civil society will continue to be recognised by all political parties as they struggle to both re-engage citizens with decision making and reform public services. Shaun is right that this in turn will influence the contours and characteristics of civil society, though I draw different conclusions about the pros and cons of this. The important thing will be for civil society to be confident and proactive in shaping future relationships with the state as the environment changes.

What do you think?

Last updated at 15:08 Mon 18/May/09.
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