Too much theory and not enough practice. Those were the words used this week by a lifelong shire Tory to describe what has become of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She meant that the two societies have become unhealthily politicised. The people who now run them believe it is not enough to do solid, unglamorous work to alleviate cruelty to children and to animals. They think they can only show they are serious, and can only appear on television and get their names in the newspapers, if they become lobby groups run along the lines of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the days when the world lived in the shadow of death by nuclear war.
The NSPCC and the RSPCA used, like the monarch, to be above politics. They were organisations which anyone from a Tory to a Trotskyite who cared about children and animals could support. They might be unexciting, but by God they were known to be good.
How distant those days seem now that they have been taken over by the single-issue fanatics. We should emphasise at the outset that we would object to the infiltration of these charities by any band of zealots, even one with whose aims we were in general sympathy, but it is particularly unfortunate that the anti-smacking and anti-hunting crusades should have gained control. These two movements have much in common. They are intolerably self-righteous and, in order to feel suffused with the warm glow of virtue, they wish to persecute large numbers of ordinary people who engage in activities which for hundreds of years have raised scarcely a murmur of protest.
We are not in favour of smacking children, but we consider a fleeting smack a very much lesser evil than a campaign conducted with all the resources at the state’s disposal — social workers, health visitors, Sure Start representatives, police, the prosecution service, courts and a host of other agencies — to pursue parents whose patience happens occasionally to snap.