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Justin Forsyth has far more to apologise for than Tony Blair’s Save the Children award

3 March 2015

1:47 PM

3 March 2015

1:47 PM

You almost have to admire Justin Forsyth’s brass neck. He is a former Gordon Brown spin chief earning a Prime Ministerial £138,000 for running Save the Children. Or, rather, transforming it into Save the Labour Party with various attack ads claiming that kids need to be rescued from wicked Conservative austerity.

Here’s an example of its handiwork:

You’d think that Forsyth would be rather embarrassed about abusing the charity’s resources in such a way, but last year Save the Children went one further and gave an award to Tony Blair.


That really was too going far. There was outrage from Save the Children staff and donors, even an online petition – it’s bad enough seeing their charity used as a political attack dog, but to spin a halo around Blair’s head? That really was the limit. Yes, the award from from its US arm and Forsyth runs its UK arm. But the relationship between Labour and Save the Children was getting just too close (Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff, now sits on the board of Save the Children International).

This morning, months after the event, Forsyth has confessed that the award was too much.

‘Yes, it was a global legacy award. It was called that. But actually it was an award very, very specifically for Tony Blair’s efforts on Africa at two G8 summits at Birmingham and Gleneagles, not his wider legacy.’ 

And who was brought in to advise Blair on the G8 Aid to Africa agenda? One Justin Forsyth. So the awkward circularity continues.

Anyway, there is more to apologise for. As The Spectator argued a couple of years back, Save the Children was established for a clear purpose: to improve survival rates for children in poor countries. Most people who donate will have that in mind. But Save the Children’s work took on a new turn when Forsyth launched a campaign called It Shouldn’t Happen Here in 2012. The campaign claimed that 1.6 million British children were growing up in ‘severe poverty’, and produced the above video.

The idea that there are 1.6m children in the the ‘severe poverty’ depicted in that Save The Children video – where the family is so poor that the parents can only afford toast for the child’s breakfast and nothing for themselves – is ludicrous. Yes, we have our challenges: family breakdown, educational failure. But it’s not third world level; not even close. This was little more than a crude political campaign against government cuts, conducted by a former Labour aide and paid for by well-meaning donors, many of whom perhaps had African children in mind when they dropped their coins into Save the Children’s collecting boxes.

When Gordon Brown lifted ban on charities carrying out political lobbying, he created a situation where the Labour Party would find it had lots of helpers attacking austerity policies. This may have helped Labour, but it has harmed the reputation of charities. Staff of Cafod were surprised when Damain McBride ended up there – but they should not have been. This is the way things are going.

Forsyth should apologise for reducing the once-great charity into a kind of Labour in Exile. And after that apology, he should resign – and let someone else rebuild a charity whose great reputation was founded on its political impartiality.

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