Thursday 11 March 2010

At Malborough House, and dining with Ming!

Marlborough House was built for Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough as her London home,whilst her husband was building Blenheim Palace - which abuts my wonderful Charlbury. Hawskmoor designed Blenheim, whilst Wren did the House!

The place is oozing history - the home of Edward V11 when he was Prince of Wales, and then of George V and Queen Mary. But now it's the home of The Commonwealth Secretariat and Foundation and that's why I am here (in case you're wondering!)

I have been a member of The Commonwealth's Civil Society Committee for two years now and this week we have our three day annual meeting. Part of our role is to help plan the civil society input to the Commonwealth's Heads of Government meeting; next one November 2011 in Perth. Mark Collins, the CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, is a valued member of ACEVO, as is the CEO of the Royal Commonwealth Club (ACEVO members get a reduced rate at this brilliant London Club (just off Trafalgar Square).

One of the fascinating things about the Committee for me is the insight and learning from the other members who are drawn from around the Commonwealth. There is a superb Chair; Phiroshaw Camay, who runs the co-operative for research and education in South Africa and is a top civil society Leader there.

And it's always humbling to be reminded that whatever the problems we might have with Government here at least we are not in Zimbabwe for example, where civil society organisations face challenges of a very different order. Or Uganda which includes political leaders who want to have homosexuals put to death.

Indeed a number of Commonwealth Leaders deeply resent NGOs who often get funding because their Governments cannot be trusted not to divert funding into non-charitable ends: like their own families! We had a fascinating debate on the subject of fragile Governments or fragile societies.

In the afternoon we got onto the subject of communications and, surprise, surprise, my Blog came up. I suggested they include a link to said famous Blog on their website! And I even mentioned Robin Bogg, the anon writer who spoofs me with his witty piss takes.

Last night was dinner at the Liberal Club! Part of our concerted effort to ensure all the political parties know our third sector offer. One of my Board members, the indefatigable Leila Ferguson, who runs the West Berksire Mencap and her husband were entertaining me and my partner. A superb was the "Orpington Dinner" , held to celebrate the famous 1962 Orpington by-election, which I'm delighted to say I remember... Lord Avebury, the victor, now in his 80s was there.

I met Baroness Ros Scott, who is President of the Lib Dems, and we had a good discussion about the role of the third sector. She had an extremely sound view of our sector and I was pleased to say did not trot out the usual platitudes about wonderful volunteers and community groups. Indeed she had a thoroughly sensible approach to the important role played by national charities and how their scale and reach is so essential to a thriving sector. Such a change to those who witter on about how small is so beautiful.

There were various speeches. Ming Campbell gave a superb critique of the Chilcot Enquiry and a forensic undermining of the raison d'etre of the Blair decision to go to war, on a false prospectus and in an illegal way, in breach of the UN Charter. As he said it has done huge damage to our international standing,and I had to agree that too little attention is paid to the huge cost in lives of the Iraqi people themselves of this conflict.

David Steel and Lord Avebury both spoke and then it was to the Bar for G+T s. Leila did me proud (as her husband said; she is related to hosts of distinguished former Liberals!). Crucial for us to be selling our message across all three Parties.

And in between times I was trying to get a doctor's appointment. You have to give two weeks notice that you are going to be ill to get to see a Doctor in Charlbury. So I tried one of these new "Walk in Centres", only to discover after an hour's wait I have to go to A+E!! What's the point of them then? So that will be a journey early tomorrow. What a waste of NHS resources. But never fear; without going into details too delicate for a Blog I just need a high dose of iron to pep me up for the Tories next week!! And the NHS is the preferred supplier eh!

So not had time to put in my early potatoes, as recommended by Allison Ogden- Newton on her superb Blog! I'm not sure the frosts wouldn't get them though? My grandfather always waited for Good Friday to plant his!

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