News that former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband MP is to take up a job with the charity International Rescue Committee in New York has been met with mixed reaction in the media, and no doubt Labour Party circles.
Speaking about his appointment David Miliband said: “I am deeply honoured to have been appointed president of the IRC. The IRC’s mission is personal for me because my own parents were refugees who arrived in Britain in the 1940s. I look forward to honouring the memory of those who helped my parents by leading the IRC as it continues to offer help today to uprooted people around the world.”
One of the questions raised by this high profile departure from British politics – by someone widely assumed to be a future leader of the Labour Party – is “who can make most impact – a politician or a charity worker?”
This question though is couched in a way that invites one answer or the other. But in truth the answer has to be either – both achieve different things.
Politicians and democracy exist to create an environment and a legislative framework for society to function. Often, though, they are unable to make necessary changes – either for ideological reasons or because circumstances change. Charities and their workers are there to pick up the pieces in times of such failure. Natural disaster and war are prime examples of emergencies that need charitable intervention, but the vast majority of the charity sector deals with more ‘everyday’ failures.
Charity workers and politicians are unarguably doing different jobs with completely different outputs and in an emergency most of us are more likely to want to see a charity or aid worker than a politician. But, in the long run, shouldn’t politicians be striving to create an environment or society where most charitable action becomes redundant?