Belfast Telegraph

Now I'm not one to go climbing the Cenotaph; nor am I going to taunt police horses.

But there are times when I'm sorely tempted to plant myself in the middle of Parliament Square, clap my hands over my ears and yell a protest for all I am worth.

I especially wanted to do this when the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, decided to give everyone a telling-off about donating to charity and told us we all had to be more like the Americans.

He also told us we had to do more volunteering (because, though he didn't actually spell this out, if we didn't, David Cameron's "Big Society" might look a bit on the small side).

One of the reasons for my fury, I'll admit, was pure resentment.

Mr Hunt is a millionaire several times over. Why doesn't he just go out and endow something?

Another reason was his urging that people should, as a matter of course, leave 10% of their estate to good causes.

The principle is fine. But if he's serious about it, I dare him to get his pal George Osborne to enshrine this contribution in a new-style inheritance tax.

But the main reason for my fury was his exhortation that we should be more like Americans.

The point is that, if ministers want us to behave like Americans, they will have to treat us like Americans.

And that means structuring the economy in such a way that the gap between low and high pay is even wider than it is.

They will practically have to guarantee that a senior professional salary will be in the £200,000-plus bracket and provide many more tax incentives than exist at present.

Essentially, if they want the big money to go to good causes, they'll have to give the seriously rich the choice of contributing to the Revenue or to charity.

If that's too easy, how about this? As charities have increasingly contracted their services to local authorities, it has become more and more difficult to distinguish between some charitable organisations and local government.

Not surprisingly, those same charities fear they will be the first to be cast off when council budgets are slashed.

I suppose the simple solution is for those same charities to concentrate on soliciting small, private contributions once more and offer their services free.

Hey presto, we have the Big Society.

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