The third sector vision must stand out in the distorted politics of the age

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​Graham Martin says the third sector must get in gear fast and use the general election to expound its ideas for a better world

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19th April 2017 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

What do you do when you’re caught between the hammer and the anvil?

Because that’s the situation civil society finds itself in in the wake of the prime minister’s springing of a snap election on a dismaying public.

We live in such extraordinary times that it’s become a cliché to say so, which is itself extraordinary. Our politics has become distorted by the pull of the twin poles which will dominate this short campaign.

These are great issues of our age, both springing from the existential and terminal crisis of the British state – the next indyref and Brexit.

For the next seven weeks, both of these campaigns will be re-run, pushed through the archaic templates of an electoral system which was out of date by the time the Zinoviev Letter was posted.

The results won’t be pretty – but engagement is essential because this is a crisis that will resolve itself one way or another. As progressives, we can have agency in this, as we must.

The transit of Brexit’s black star is happening across a dismal constellation where Trump and Le Pen provide the dark matter. We need to provide the points of light.

That’s politics on one level and it’s unavoidable, but it means that in this extraordinary (cliché claxon!) campaign, the details on all other levels could be lost.

For this is no election for fans of policy nuance or tactical élan – even local issues will be largely bulldozed.

It is, at heart, about conceptions of society. What do we want Britain, or what remains of it, to look like?

And this is why the third sector and wider civil society must seize the opportunities this campaign throws up, as discouraging as they may look.

Because we have something vitally important to articulate – our vision of a better society.

We don’t want a society with closed borders, with endless austerity, with a devil take the hindmost contempt for human solidarity.

Our world is better than theirs – and we must let people know. That means, on the one hand, engaging with the political parties as they frame their pledges, but also campaigning hard for our agenda.

There are those in politics who don’t want us to campaign – what other encouragement do you need?

However, it’s been an inauspicious start. At TFN, we were expecting to be deluged by comment from Scotland’s charities reacting to the election announcement. But the silence was deafening. Embarrassing, in fact. Worrying in reality.

Maybe policy and press teams have been slow to come round from their post-Easter chocolate comas, or maybe they’re just stunned by the headlights.

But this must change – politics is moving at lightning pace and the third sector must react just as fast.

Because when you’re between a hammer and the anvil, the only sensible option is to jump out of the way.

This doesn’t mean stepping back, it means raising your voice even louder to counter the din coming from the workbench.

Graham Martin is news editor of Third Force News.

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