Suspecting that the crowd would not much care about taxpayers' money being used to further the agenda of 'social justice' or 'public health', I tried to think of a political cause that would be universally unpopular in a room of metropolitan liberals and arrived at anti-abortion activism. I may also have mentioned fox-hunting. 'Imagine how you would feel', I said, 'if the government was giving your money to charities to campaign against abortion rights.' I suggested that there would be outrage.
My opposite number, Kate Pickett of The Spirit Level fame, sought to ease the audience's fears by telling them that it would never happen. This was a typically obtuse statement but, since it was undeniably true, it nicely demonstrated the political imbalance of government donations to the third sector.
Yesterday, however, an anti-abortion charity did get some money from the government and there was indeed outrage.
A £250,000 grant to an anti-abortion group - using money raised from the tax on sanitary products - has been criticised.MPs and campaign groups said it was wrong that Life received one of the largest amounts from the government fund that comes from the 5% VAT on tampons and towels.
If the charity was being given this money to campaign against abortion, it would be as wrong as any form of government sock-puppetry. However, the article makes it clear that it is not.
Life said the money supported a project for homeless pregnant women in London.
...Life said it planned to use the money to develop its services, including "housing, practical help, non-directive counselling and life-skills training for pregnant and homeless women".
...The DCMS said the money for Life was to fund a specific west London project to help homeless and other at-risk women.
It seems as if the grant is for service provision and that the fury it has unleashed is rooted in moral offence at a charity with a difficult point of view receiving any money from the government. For example, Labour MP Paula Sherriff said it was 'bitterly ironic' for the government to 'hand over that money to organisations that don't even believe we should have control over our own bodies'.
But there were no such complaints yesterday when another organisation that doesn't believe that we should have control over our own bodies got a hand out from the taxpayer:
Almost half a million pounds has been announced to try to slash smoking rates in Wales.A decade after a smoking ban was introduced, 19% of adults now smoke in Wales - a 5% drop since before it came in.
The Welsh Government announced £417,000 for campaign charity ASH Cymru to try to cut it 3% further by 2020.
Not only is this £417,000 more than the £250,000 given to Life, it is all going to be used for political campaigning because ASH Wales does nothing but political campaigning.
And so ASH Wales, which is definitely not pro-choice when it comes to adults choosing to smoke, have got another fat stack of cash to lobby for smoking to be banned on beaches, at universities and God knows where else as part of their vendetta against smokers. 'Public health' is a racket that lots of people are doing very well out of.
And because the money comes from the Welsh Assembly, not Westminster, they are not required to abide by the anti-sockpuppet clause which bans third party organisations from lobbying on the taxpayers' dime. The anti-abortion charity, by contrast, does have to abide by the clause - which makes the hysteria about their grant even more ridiculous.