Speaking up for Oxfam and for those who seek to do good

I don't like to post negative opinions here, but I have got pretty cross at Susan Hill's latest broadside, against Oxfam bookshops, in her Spectator blog. Some of the comments to her post are, in my view, quite ugly. (There are some more enlightened points of view at the Bookseller's website, including some comments by me.)

Susan Hill does not like Oxfam bookshops because she says they are putting good independent and antiquarian booksellers out of business. She likens them to Ottakar's, a bookshop chain which, according to her, checked out small towns for the presence of a thriving independent bookshop, and then opened up nearby, putting said bookshop out of business. She does not bother to reconcile this accusation with the fact that Ottakar's itself went out of business.

Further, she does not like Oxfam bookshops because she says that they are unfairly competing with local charity shops, such as hospice shops. This is certainly not the case where I live, where the local hospice charity shop does a roaring trade despite an Oxfam bookshop, an Oxfam "normal" charity shop, a Fara (Romanian orphans) shop and a cancer charity shop all in walking distance. 

Ms Hill is very rude about Oxfam, damning the whole organisation on the basis of a couple of anecdotes on the level of one of its staff having a four-wheel drive in a poor country. She is also incensed at the organisation's stance in global warming, a fact in which Ms Hill does not believe on the basis of flawed arguments by the likes of Nigel Lawson. I refer both of them, and anyone else, to the facts and evidence about climate.

As is probably evident, I disagree almost totally with Susan Hill's diatribe. Oxfam is doing basically good work, raising money to help those less well off than me, Ms Hill, and most other people lucky enough to be born in affluent countries. If Oxfam can raise money for a good cause by selling second-hand books, good luck to it.

There are problems in the bookselling trade and challenges to the book publishing industry. But don't blame Oxfam for them. And I see no reason to believe that Oxfam is putting other charity shops out of business, either. They are all trying to do good, and I admire them all for it. We should be applauding them, not lambasting them.