Sunday 25 November 2012

State-funded charity orchestrated Costa protest

In September, I mentioned the attempt to keep Costa Coffee out of the town of Totnes—an effort which I said "epitomises the bigotry and bossiness of a certain sort of Guardianista". As far as the Deep Greens and far-left is concerned (insofar as the two can be distinguished), stopping people buying a certain type of coffee on the whim of some barely-elected local councillor is a victory for freedom and democracy. I later discovered that the No To Costa campaign was supported by our old friend Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative party's go-to nanny statist.

At the Battle of Ideas last month, I was struck by how the new leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, decided to use a significant part of her ten minute slot to talk about how wonderful it was that Costa Coffee had been refused permission to open a branch in Totnes because "the people" didn't want it there. I wondered at the time why it was that, if the people hated Costa Coffee so much, it was necessary to shut them out rather than let them open a branch that would go bust. I also wondered why she thought an example of big government trampling on free choice was a good way to make the '21st-century Case for Freedom' (for that was the title of the debate). I could not help but be reminded of the comment left on the Guardian website when this was first discussed...

If your idea of 'democracy' is 'a system where me and my condescending arsehole chums get to dictate to other people what kind of coffee they're going to be allowed to drink', then I hope you never develop any kind of inclination towards fascism.

I was therefore delighted to see on the BBC website that the coffee-loving people of Totnes have not gone down without a fight...

Costa's Totnes pull-out 'provoked fury'

Costa Coffee's decision to drop plans to open in Totnes has led to a war of words in the town. Campaign group No To Costa collected 5,750 signatures against the plan, which prompted the firm to pull out last month. The coffee chain's plan would have caused "irreversible damage" to the town, campaigners said.

However, one independent coffee shop owner said its decision not to move in left other people "furious".

Costa announced that it was not going to open in Fore Street because it had "recognised the strength of feeling" against national brands in the town.

They had responded to the likes of eco-charity Transition Town Totnes (TTT) which, after backing the campaign against Costa, has been accused of going beyond its aims.

...Costa's decision, she said, had affected young people in the town who wanted jobs and a meeting place. "A lot of people were furious after Costa pulled out," she said.

A Facebook page has been created "for all those against the narrow minded people at Totnes transition town that seem hell bent on sending Totnes back to the stone age".

Take Back Totnes creator Matt Trant, said: "TTT acted as if it was representing the majority in the town but it wasn't. I hardly bumped into one person that was against Costa and I have lived here 21 years. A lot of people felt cheated."

So what is this "eco-charity" Transition Town Totnes and why is it so reluctant to allow the people of Totnes to decide where they go for a coffee? A look at their financial statement indicates that they are a bunch of ineffectual middle-class tree-huggers. Amongst their achievements in 2010-11 were...

Transition Homes 

This project, which is for the low-impact affordable housing development for local people made progress, albeit at times rather slow progress, in its negotiations with the Dartington Trust for the land to build the scheme.

Translation: We haven't built any houses and we haven't got any land to build on.

Fruit and Nut trees

This project identifies appropriate sites for the wild planting of fruit and nut trees. Over the last year we have planted over 30 trees: almonds, walnuts, sweet chestnuts and heart-nuts, as well as apples, plums and pears in the public spaces around town. Most have been developed by the Agroforestry Research Trust in Dartington, and are specially adapted to grow well in our climate.

Translation: We planted the seeds of some native trees which would have grown anyway because they're wild. They were "specially adapted to grow well in our climate" insofar as they were apples and walnuts rather than pineapples and mangos.


This theme group meets bi-monthly and explores the role the arts has to play in preparing for a carbon constrained, energy lean world. This includes allowing temporary spaces, time and practical projects to explore, engaging, experiencing, enthusing and empowering.

Translation: An acid casualty played some Goldfrapp and told us how to do yoga.

This doesn't strike me as the most essential charity that has ever existed. Still, if people want to donate their hard-earned money to eco-mentalists and Costa-haters that's their prerogative. Their proudest moment of last year was getting that socialist über-liar Naomi Klein to speak at a meeting so I would never give them any money myself, but it's a free country.

No, wait. I did give them money—and so did you...

Transition Town Totnes Financial Statements for the year ended 31 August 2011

Department of Energy and Climate Change: £548,773

Total donations and grants: £598,051

That's right. This organisation relies on the taxpayer for 92 per cent of its donations (52 per cent of its total income)—more than £500,000 for a pressure group in a town of 8,000 people. This government is still trying to make cuts to the budget, right? I think I've found half a million right here, unless "carbon constrained theme groups" and Costa Coffee boycotts are essential frontline services.

Everywhere I turn there is a fake charity masquerading as civil society. I don't think I can even remember the last time I heard from an organisation that wanted to relieve people of their money and/or liberties which wasn't funded by the state.

As it happens, on Monday I'm going to be debating the issue of sock puppet charities (with my dear, dear friend Kate Pickett) and on Tuesday I'm going to be giving evidence on the same subject to a parliamentary select committee. So thank you, Transition Town Totnes, for reminding me how endemic the problem of fake charities is and how urgent is the need to do something about it.


Anonymous said...

And of general interest to the taxpayer, what on earth did the spend half a million quid on?


Zaphod said...

Hey, come on Junican, they planted 30 trees!
No, wait, that's OVER 30 trees!

Next project, count the trees more precisely?

Devil's Kitchen said...

I have achieved very little of any political significance: however, I count our little Fake Charities project to be a minor success—not only in introducing that phrase, but also in bringing to whole scam to wider attention...


Unknown said...

DK, that's alkready more than a lot (most) of us.
Don't beat yourself up about it and thank you for the Fake Charity stuff, an invaluable resource.

SadButMadLad said...

There is a similar situation in my town. Here the democracy loving progressives don't want a supermarket and have managed to stop it from progressing with it's planning. They don't want the town to become a place where people come to shop. They think it will destroy the market. Instead they want a marina and hotel on the canal. Except that no one has come forward to build the marina and hotel. So the land will lie fallow and an eye sore for many years instead of providing a source of employment.