Joseph Rowntree would be turning in his grave: The great Victorian's trust for poor is being used to change the way we vote

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Joseph Rowntree would be turning in his grave: The great Victorian's trust for poor is being used to change the way we vote

Post by Guest on Thu Apr 14, 2011 9:13 pm

Commuters at London stations this week found themselves accosted by teams of volunteers handing out leaflets stamped with the message 'Why we're voting Yes!' above pictures of a young Asian woman, a retired war veteran wearing his medals, and a mother of two young children.

Each of them describes in the leaflet why they will be supporting the Alternative Vote in the referendum on May 5, in which the traditional first-past-the-post system could be swept away.

This kind of targeted activity is evidence that the 'Yes To AV' campaign is not only well organised but well funded, too.

So who's paying — and why are they dead set against a system that has served Britain for decades?

A 100-year-old pressure group, whose reports on poverty helped shape the creation of the Welfare State in the Forties, has emerged as one of the biggest paymasters of the campaign to change Britain's voting system.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, part of the organisation set up by the pioneering Victorian chocolate entrepreneur, social reformer and philanthropist, to try to achieve a 'fair, democratic and peaceful society', has given £1 million to the Yes To AV campaign.

That, tellingly, constitutes its entire income from the past 12 months, derived from a property portfolio and investments.

Now, several MPs are asking quite how abolishing the historic first-past-the-post voting principle has become a priority in the fight for equality.

Certainly, the size of the donation has provoked fury at Westminster — and sparked a row about charities engaging in political activity, for which they would risk losing cherished tax advantages.

While the Reform Trust is not a registered charity, it does come under one umbrella with a group of three other Rowntree organisations which are charities.

Indeed, the Trust's directors are also trustees of one of those charities, which is forbidden from supporting party politics.

That's why this considerable seven-figure donation to the AV campaign sits so uneasily with the famous Quaker family's original pledge that it 'is not committed to the policies of any one political party'.

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