Monday, October 19, 2015

Camila Batmanghelidjh begins

Why did Camila Batmanghelidjh enjoy such a high reputation for so long?

As Gaby Hinsliff pointed out back in August, one reason for her success was that she appealed to both the political right and left.

To the Conservatives, she embodied their dream of the Big Society.

And you can see its appeal. Government services can be impersonal and bureaucratic, their staff can sometimes seem most concerned with their own interests. (The obligatory political radicalism of those staff tends to stop just short of a point where it would question the need for their own existence.)

So you can understand the appeal of Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company. Here was a charity apparently doing an immense amount of good for a client group (badly behaved orphans) that conventional services were failing to help.

So Batmanghelidjh ticked all the boxes in the era when David Cameron was trying to detoxify his party, right down to her air of vaguely defined ethnicity. (It is hard to avoid thinking of Ali G interviewing politicians at this point.)

But the left loved her too. The more lurid her stories about the conditions children faced, the more they proved the wickedness of the Coalition,

The fact that Alistair Darling had fought the 2010 general election promising spending cuts "tougher and deeper" than those implemented by Margaret Thatcher.

Labour activists preferred to take their lead from the ludicrous Sharon Hodgson:
The Lib Dems aided and abetted, this time by their Conservative masters, are at it again! 
They are literally time and again taking the food out of the mouths of society’s poorest children! 
I hope they are proud of themselves and the fact that this is what they actually seem to have come into politics for as they do it time and time again!
So Labour desperately wanted Batmanghelidjh's stories of feral children abandoned by statutory services to be true.

The truth is very different.

Ruth Bright has written a tremendous post about "the condescension of Camila" on Lib Dem Voice. She says:
Kids Company began in "my" patch as a councillor in Southwark. Between 1992 and 1994 my Lib Dem colleagues and I did a 400% canvass of the nearby, very deprived, Aylesbury Estate including Wendover the biggest continuous high-rise council block in Europe. We topped this canvass up throughout the next decade, also conducting a crime survey of 2,700 homes. 
In many years of door knocking in the area I had many complaints about Kids Company (not all justified) but I never met a single local person who had been helped by Kids Company. 
In an interview on Thursday to Channel 4’s admirable Afua Hirsch Camila showed extraordinary condescension when she said that the select committee members who questioned her were not the sort of people who visit the “ghettos”. 
My former ward of Faraday in Southwark can be a tough old place but it is not a “ghetto” nor is it likely to descend into “savagery” as Kids Company claimed in a risk assessment. It is easy to look around a high rise estate and assume the worst of the people who live there. But get a bus from the Aylesbury Estate at 5am and you will see people going in to London Bridge to clean City Hall, the Shard and many a prestigious office block. 
In my time as councillor a survey showed that an astonishing 81% of council tenants in the area felt that they could trust their neighbours.
Charities can do great work - and work that the statutory services would not consider. But people I know who work in the sector often come to the view that their services tend to prosper because of remarkable individuals and particular local circumstances.

What you cannot do it benchmark them and roll them out across the country, as official dogma now demands.

I suspect Camila Batmanghelidjh's career will ultimately prove a chapter in the history of public relations more than one in the history of children's services.

And the trustees of Kids Company have a lot of awkward questions to answer.

1 comment:

John Holt said...

I think the select committee gave Yentob a hard time because they would rather ask him a Q and get an answer than ask CB and get a ramble.

My objection to KC is that it is a London charity with an outstation in Bristol and single employee in Liverpool. It is portrayed as something national. 95% of its spend in its last accounts was in London. Probably Bristol and certainly Liverpool are just window dressing to make it seem more national.

That apart shame on Cameron and everyone else who saw the glitter but not the mismanagement.