The rise and fall of the RSPCA
THREE chief executives in five years, under ‘formal observation’ by the Charity Commission, accused of ‘exploitative and unethical fundraising methods’ and now under investigation for what may be improper use of funds: these are not references to an unimportant niche organisation, but to Britain’s oldest and richest animal charity, the RSPCA.
A £140-million business, it’s now in serious trouble. Membership has plummeted to fewer than 20,000—this is set against the RSPB, which has more than one million members and rising. Following a low-turnout election, the charity has elevated more people who have previously expressed extreme views to its governing board and has lost almost every connection with its core constituency.
Quite recently, things were so different. There was almost universal support for the charity across town and countryside and the RSPCA inspector was a regular visitor to primary schools, encouraging children to keep pets and explaining how to look after them. It was felt to have done a good job with abattoirs and helped effect compromises in National Hunt racing.
Farming families, in particular, supported it, understanding how important its role was in preventing cruelty. It was not just that the RSPCA prosecuted people who were knowingly reckless or purposely cruel, it was the way in which it helped the ignorant and vulnerable to reform their husbandry.
No wonder that the charity, founded by, among others, anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, built up significant reserves and assets and had a nationwide network of branches and rescue centres. Royal patronage and widespread support gave the RSPCA a special place in English life, but it was that success that made it a juicy target for extremist entry-ism.
Along came people who couldn’t have created an organisation like this in a month of Sundays. The vast majority of Britons abhor cruelty, but they don’t believe that animals are more important than humans, they don’t resort to violence to achieve their ends and they don’t compare British farming methods to the Nazi Holocaust, yet these are the views of a small faction that has influence on this once great organisation. To them has fallen the assets, reputation and income so carefully built by generations of hardworking people who were shocked by animal cruelty.
This is our fault, however. You can only steal an organisation from its sensible members if the rest of us are indolent, don’t turn up to organising committees and don’t vote in the elections for officers. Small and organised groups can wreak havoc once the majority of supporters content themselves with the odd donation and an occasional visit to a bring-and-buy sale.
What’s happening to the RSPCA reflects many other parts of society. The vast majority of Labour supporters don’t share the destructive instincts of Momentum and yet, in constituency after constituency, its members infiltrate moribund organisations, seeking to deselect moderate MPS and replace them with head-bangers.
The Tories’ once powerful electoral machine is a shadow of its former self. Constituencies that boasted thousands of members now rely on a few hundred, many of whom are old and set in their ways. They, too, choose candidates who mirror their narrow views rather than those with wider appeal. This is why many of the electorate are feeling increasingly disenfranchised.
This is how once great organisations become extremist pressure groups and political parties become increasingly unelectable rumps. Again, we can only blame ourselves. If we don’t join and participate, we give power to the extremists and help destroy a moderate, civilised way of life.
‘Small and organised groups can wreak havoc