This is a fascinating exchange between Owen Jones and Alastair Campbell, bringing to life many of the themes I’ve been preoccupied with in the last few months.

I agree with Owen’s claim that Campbell’s world view is in crisis. The promise of the modernisers rested on a basic electoral proposition: triangulation was necessary to win power because elections are won from the centre-ground. His reflections reminded me of some of the discussion by Hilary Clinton in her post-election book.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the professionalisation of charities. Leon Ward just sent me this article he wrote about his own experiences as a telephone fundraiser. It’s definitely worth reading in full here. I found his description of the training given by call centre operators particularly interesting:

During my training I was particularly shocked at the three-ask script that callers had to abide by while battling with the public. In most cases, the initial ‘ask’ was £20 per month, then, once rejected, as it usually was, this was reduced to £10 and then to £5 (or any suggestion the donor agreed). In between the rejections, callers then used a cushion of facts and figures to convince the donor to sign up. Supervisors would usually listen in once you clicked the ‘donate’ button. If you came off script or the supervisor thought you were going to lose the gift then they would come over and coach you, mid-call, to make sure you sealed the deal. More often than not this distraction meant you couldn’t concentrate and the donor was lost. Of course, it was always my fault and never the supervisor, rabbiting in my ear. Praise was minimal. In my probation I did rather well, raising the equivalent of £6.5K in my first 10 weeks. Obviously, the call centre managers took credit for most of that.

http://leonward.thirdsector.co.uk/2013/02/06/why-i-quit-as-a-telephone-fundraiser/

Just when we need the ‘third sector’ more than ever, its operations seem to converging with those of the private and public sectors.

I just received a phone call from a very pleasant woman from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Except she wasn’t from the WWF, she was from GoGen: “a specialist charity fundraising team” who are “engaged by some of the UK’s best- loved charities to maintain and develop relationships with their current and potential supporters”. This nice woman, reading from an equally nice script, asked me about my monthly donation to support the WWF’s work preserving mountain gorillas. She asked what inspired me to make this donation, leading me to explain that I think they’re wonderful creatures. She agreed effusively. Sensing where this was going, I interjected that I love their work but I couldn’t increase my donation. She pointed out that only an extra £1 per month would make a difference if everyone she called made such a donation. I apologised again and she brought the conversation to a close. This was the point at which she told me that she was ‘required’ to inform me she was from GoGen and that they expected to raise £1.4 million* for the WWF.

Has anyone else received these calls? It hasn’t left me feeling hostile to the WWF as such. But it was jarring to receive a charity call, from a call centre, with someone reading from a script. Looking at it from an organisational point of view, it’s easy to see why GoGen might be appealing for a large NGO like the WWF:

GoGen is capable of carrying out many aspects of fundraising charities often find difficult performing themselves either due to the specialist skills required, or the cost of equipping and maintaining a modern call centre. As a specialist, GoGen enjoys significant economies of scale and can pass these savings on directly to the charities. In a world where everything has a cost, it is nice to know that those costs are someone else’s to worry about. All that the charities need to think about is their given cause. We help convey the message of charities in a way which is consistent with their brand, and take great care that the training we give our staff has been approved in every detail by our charity partners to ensure their vision is clearly delivered.

http://www.gogen.org/whatwedo.aspx

But it’s equally hard not to wonder about the longer term implications of this professionalisation of charities, with call centres and customer relationship management consultancies being a logical next step after the rise of charity muggers, both in town centres and those going door-to-door. The latter group really irritate me. In my local area (presumably because of the high student population) I’ve noticed a ‘swarm’ tactic: there will up to 10 people going door-to-door at the same time. Presumably this is an efficiency saving, much like outsourcing the process of tapping up existing supporters, but I find it rather sinister. It’s also annoying that they don’t coordinate properly and will often knock on my door two or three times in one afternoon (with a different person each time). I resent the facile scripts and I’ve been stunned on more than one occasion by outright rudeness from people at the door (e.g. “you mean you don’t care about starving children?”).

Are these tactics likely to become normalised? I started a direct debit to Society For The Protection Of Animals Abroad (SPANA) last year after seeing an advert in the New Statesman. They’ve never sent me anything. Reflectively, I quite like this – I’d much rather they spend money on their actual work than sending me glossy leaflets. But I wonder if the expectations of ‘modern CRM’ techniques, which an organisation like WWF does expertly, will eventually have knock on effects for smaller charities, as they serve to create expectations about what ‘proper’ charities do. I also wonder if the metrics will lead services like GoGen to be appealing obscure longer term damage for how these charities are seen. Clearly one of GoGen’s unique selling points is the capacity to craft a script congruent with the charity’s ethos. But it’s still a script that has been crafted for use in a call centre.

*I can’t remember exactly what she said. What struck me was that it was a precise figure.

NYPD CIA Anti-Terror Operations Conducted In Secret For Years.

At a time when the inadequacies of the British media stands so starkly exposed, the above article is a wonderful reminder of what real journalism looks like. An unprecedented blurring of boundaries seems to have occurred between the CIA and the NYPD without, it seems, being recognised or acknowledged until now.

A thought occurred to me though while reading: you can kind of see how this would be attractive to the NYPD (which is not of course to support it). The co-operation described in the article sounds as if, in institutional terms, it’s likely to be efficient: it increases the capacity of the organisation to meet its aims. It’s easy to imagine how people like ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton, arch-modernizers in the police force with a penchant for following corporate leadership trends, simply wouldn’t get how there could be a problem with an organisational move that seems manifestly to achieve its stated ends more effectively than it otherwise would. It’s easy to imagine how scornful they would be in meetings, as well as how rhetorically powerful that scorn would be, at those who invoke abstract ideas (like the notion that the operational encroachment of the CIA onto the mainland is dodgy) to attack the plans, particularly given the context of New York where the end in question must be scarily capable of shutting down debate in these sorts of spheres.

Obviously there’s always been rationalization within modern organizations. This isn’t new. However the gaudy post-1989 corporate culture of modernisation is. It’s destructive enough in the place it originated, with its quasi-autistic quantitative myopia and chronic short-termism. It’s horrific when it infects the management of public services, with the continual assumption that lack of results means they’re just not modernizing fast enough. But it’s truly fucking terrifying when it reaches the security apparatus, police and/or military – one suspects the conceptual distinction will become ever more blurred over the 21st century – simply because it increasingly enmeshes the managerial class within a moral universe in which talks of rights and liberties, procedural constraints on means, will come to seem like ‘nonsense on stilts’, particularly when the ends seem self-evidently moral.