Thursday, 4 September 2014

How to Knit Yourself A Patronising Idiot (pattern not included)

Last night I read that a government minister called Brooks Newmark thinks that 'charities should stick to knitting and stay out of politics.' Now, as someone who has worked for various charities over a number of years and who likes knitting, I have a few things to say about this.

First, Newmark clearly has no idea about about charities. He still thinks it's about little old ladies knitting blankets to send to the poor black children in Africa. He has no idea how large these organisations are, or that anyone working for a charity in Africa is more likely to be a skilled professional like a doctor or a sanitation engineer, than someone dishing out blankets and copies of the bible. And thank God for that, I say.

Charities that work in the UK also employ a wide range of qualified professionals like social workers, nurses, scientists, ecologists, artists and architects, not to mention all the other skilled jobs it takes to run an organisation, such as finance, fundraising, marketing, and planning. People in charities often have the most specialist expertise in their field - why would you want to shut them out of a discussion? Unless, of course, you were an ignorant oaf from Eton who'd rather stew in his own prejudices than listen to the views of a qualified expert.

Secondly, Newmark clearly has no idea about about knitting. He thinks it's something for the simple, the senile and the stupid. He has no idea it's something that requires intelligence and technical skill, that something knitted is a valued item, not a bit of worthless scrap. I'm currently knitting this bit of fair isle. It has a lot in common with the budget spreadsheets I created at work, in that it requires the retention of numerous bits of information; contains a large number of variables; has many things that can go wrong; and if I drop one bit, I'll write off a years' work. I do this for relaxation. I know.

One of the places I work (amongst others, since I freelance) is Labour Behind the Label, an organisation which campaigns for the rights of garment workers. It's not actually a charity, since what it does it classed as 'too political', even though in most respects it runs like one. Apparently ensuring that the people who sew your pants don't get crushed to death while they're doing it is political, while sending your son, who you called after a firm of dry cleaners, to Eton, is very much a charitable activity.

If I thought that Newmark understood what kind of people do knitting, I'd say he'd be a bit justified in despising us. But I don't. I really don't give him the credit. He just thinks we're daft old women. Quite apart from the fact that most of the old women I know have more sense than the average Tory MP, most knitters I know are in their 30s and 40s, the very kind of people that hold communities together. They're extremely sociable: likely to be propping up the committee at the local community centre, running cafés, organising fêtes, and probably setting up their own business while bringing up children. They're kind of people that put life back into high streets, dig allotments, turn up for neighbourhood events, make cake for fundraisers, and notice when the library gets closed down. As I said, he'd hate us, because although this is the kind of activity the Tory Party professes to support, in secret it makes them nervous. They don't like all this interaction, all this interpersonal womanly interconnection stuff. It makes them frankly nervous. What they'd really really like is if we all got up in the dark, drove alone for an hour to work, worked at our corporate desk, then drove home again, to eat a ready meal prepared by a supermarket, before sitting in front of the TV with our arms at our sides. It's all so much more, well, manageable than all you lot with your horrid prams and upcycled dresses and homemade cake in tins and your six stupid sheep in a paddock that you keep ringing the inland revenue about because you can't work the forms they set up with a company of 1 million turnover in mind. But as I said, he doesn't know all that. He'd just hate it if he had to. He is, in effect, pre-despising you in advance.

No, he hasn't a clue. He only knows one thing: which is if you knit, he despises you. If you work for a charity, he despises you. If you're a woman, he despises you too. And you know what, this is really what I came here to say.

Brooks, honey, it's mutual.



  1. "If I thought that Newmark understood what kind of people do knitting, I'd say he'd be a bit justified in despising us." I wish you would explain this statement.

  2. Good article - one tiny point - Newman is American so didn't go to Eton, but for the amount of clue he's got he might as well have done.