Comment: Charity does not begin with celebs

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Indy Lifestyle Online

his week's chic little fashion item, as modelled by none other than Cherie Blair, is a black and white ribbon. A statement as well as an accessory, it announces that the wearer is against domestic violence and raises money for Refuge, the charity that provides assistance to women who have been beaten up by their husbands or partners. A sombre Mrs Blair was pictured on the front page of Friday's Sun, wearing what the newspaper described as her "ribbon of hope" on the lapel of her jacket, as though silently chiding those of us who have not chosen to follow her example.

I am now feeling decidedly nervous in case, next time I go shopping, strangers send me accusing glances for failing to declare my implacable opposition to violence against women. I am also hostile to breast cancer, although I have never worn a ribbon to signal that either. Nor have I signed up to donate my last hour's pay in the old millennium to a good cause, as I am urged to do by large posters every time I step inside my local Marks & Spencer. I already make regular donations to charity by monthly standing order, and what is special about an hour's pay anyway? Meanwhile Friday night marked the unveiling of the biggest weapon in the charity arsenal, Children in Need, with the entire evening devoted to a "star-studded telethon" on BBC1.

It was the kind of line-up - Michael Aspel, Lulu, Mel C - which would make any sane person rush for the door. I suppose it was targeted at the same audience which likes to run around wearing red noses, harassing motorists on roundabouts for money for good causes. It has certainly developed its own momentum, with this year's total breaking previous records. And yet, conducted in an atmosphere of hectic self-congratulation, it is predicated on a profoundly pessimistic view of human nature: people won't give money, unless they are urged to do so by someone famous.

his may be true, although I suspect that small, unfashionable charities up and down the country are sustained by people who quietly write out cheques without expecting a leering celeb to applaud their largesse. But there is genuine confusion here, aside from the irritation felt by people like me who do not want to take part in a compulsory feel-good fest. Is the primary purpose of charitable donation to assist battered women, landmine victims or whatever the fashionable cause of the day happens to be, or is it to bathe the giver in a warm glow of compassion? he charity set up to commemorate the late Princess of Wales, which had rather vague aims, for a time pulled in so much cash that it had a detrimental effect on giving to longer-established campaigns; when people sent donations, it was unclear whom they were hoping to benefit, other than the type of good causes the Princess had been known to favour.

Charitable giving has become a form of display, an expression of sentimentality rather than a concerted attempt to deal with long-standing social problems. Poverty affects hundreds of thousands of children in this country but it is more "fun" to dress up as the Village People on V than to campaign for a greater chunk of the Government's budget to be directed towards the poor. here is a similar problem with domestic violence. "Cherie Blair says: Just pounds 1 will help us end torment of domestic attacks", was the Sun's breathtaking claim last week. If only rape, murder and fractured skulls could be got rid of so easily.

It is one thing to raise money to provide refuges for women and children at risk, and another to address the question of why so many men in this country use fists and weapons on their partners. When Glenda Jackson revealed last week that she had been assaulted by every man she had been involved with, she characterised it as "something men have a tendency to do". Is this an unpleasant truth about masculinity, or is it behaviour men have been allowed to get away with in a culture that is strikingly ambivalent about male violence?

It is also puzzling to be lectured about the importance of bringing domestic violence into the open when we have been aware of it for a couple of decades. All that has changed in the last week is that the subject has developed "legs", in tabloid terms, now that celebs such as Ms Jackson and Sheryl Gascoigne are prepared to talk about it. his is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we retain some sense of proportion. I hardly think those men who returned home from the pub and beat up their girlfriends last night are going to alter their ways because Mrs Blair has asked us to wear our hearts on our lapels.