Joan Edwards’ bequest: the dangers of 24/7 news and how we respond to it

Zhou EnlaiWhen asked about the impact of the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai was said to have suggested that it was “too early to tell”. Admittedly, he was apparently referring to the 1968 riots, rather than the original, but it was the response of someone who saw politics as a long game.
 
With 24/7 rolling news, it would seem that such a perspective is in danger of being lost forever. In just twenty-four hours, the Joan Edwards legacy story appears to have gone from curiosity to scandal and back.
 
Yesterday, news broke that a hitherto unknown elderly woman had left £520,000 to the Coalition parties for no apparent reason. The question was, why? The answer was somewhat vague, and even harder to credit. It was a good story though, and the digging began.
 
This morning, the Will was published, with the critical phrase “whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit” highlighted. Pretty damning, you might think, and plenty of people did, as the comments on earlier pieces published here demonstrate.
 
Let the uproar begin. “Give the money back”, demanded the throng, led by Polly Toynbee, senior Labour Party figures, amongst others. And so, by mid-morning, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives had announced that the money would be handed back. Based on what was known at the time, it probably felt like a good call.
 
But wait! By lunchtime, the solicitors acting for the Estate had announced that it was the deceased’s stated intention that the money go to “whichever political party formed the government at the date of her death”, implying that the funds had been distributed as per her wishes and that the two parties were probably justified in accepting and, had they chosen, retaining them.
 
There was a time when, if a story broke, the first thing one thought was “I wonder why?…”, and then, if you were intrigued enough, you followed the story to the end. And yet, in this instance, as is too often the case with modern journalism, once an answer that fitted with inbuilt prejudices was arrived at, an allegation was made, seemingly without bothering to check with the Executors first.
 
And, worse than that – because I expect such cynicism from journalists these days – a whole bunch of people who, most of the time, assume such bias suddenly believe everything that they read in a newspaper. And what proportion of the population trust journalists? About 20%, depending on which poll you regard as most accurate.

I suspect that this story has a bit to run yet, and there may well be more information to come, but perhaps we all need to take a step back, engage some healthy scepticism, and check the facts before we rush to judgment.

As a concept to be applied more generally, it might make our politics, and our society, a less toxic place, and lead to some rather better decision-making in future.

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121 Comments

  • I’m sorry, but..

    Firstly, the solicitors are referring to a conversation with the deceased that took place over a decade ago. Given the number of wills they must deal with I find it very difficult to believe that they can remember what she said. Even if it was her intention that the money was to go to the political party in power, which is extremely unlikely*, then why didn’t the solicitors write that in her will? – i.e. a clear expression that the estate was to be bequeathed to the party in power.

    Secondly, the solicitors have a very clear vested interest in defending their interpretation of the words they authored in the will and we cannot contact the deceased to check if they are telling us the truth.

    In my (well founded) opinion, it would take someone with quite a bias to actually believe them. They appear, to me, to be trying to cover their backs.

    *nobody leaves money to the political party that happens to be in power, but many leave bequests to individual, named parties or to the government. Plus, we have the word ‘government’ mentioned in the will and not the word ‘party’.

  • The solicitors’ defence seems to be that “she wanted to leave the money to a political party, any party …” Who on earth has an interest in politics AS SUCH? I suppose the advertising industry, and political journalists, and some bloggers, but she doesn’t seem to have fitted those categories.

    And if she really did want to support political campaigning, regardless of its flavour, then it might have been a good idea for the lawyers to get her to put it in writing, so they didn’t have to rely on their memories of a very old conversation.

  • As things stand at the moment the result (emptying the money into the national debt, they said on the news) is probably the worst possible outcome. Is this really “as they may see fit” as her will has it? £500 000 is enough to have done something really useful in her name for Bristol Royal Infirmary for example, and it could have given the coalition leaders a bit of publicity later on when the effect of the money was realised.

  • Dave Orbison 14th Aug '13 - 3:57pm

    A truly astonishing piece. How will politics ever recover from it’s shabby reputation when such an appalling act of greed is defended even spun into an attack on bias journalism – and with no irony whatsoever by the author. Anyone knows that a will should be tightly written and with legal advice to avoid unfortunate ambiguities or unseemly squabbles between beneficiaries. Both Steve and Robert make excellent points. The speed with which these parties ‘gave up’ the funds points a) to undermine this defence of their actions in this article and b) the sorry depths to which a once principled-led party has now descended.

  • And if she were interested in “politics as such”, why didn’t she either share out between parties, OR, give to parties not currently in power, acknowledging that governing parties have a great media and PR advantage.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '13 - 4:39pm

    Dave Orbison

    A truly astonishing piece. How will politics ever recover from it’s shabby reputation when such an appalling act of greed is defended even spun into an attack on bias journalism – and with no irony whatsoever by the author.

    How was this “an appalling act of greed”? It was the solicitors who interpreted the will as leaving money to the political parties. The political parties did nothing to cause the will to be written in this way, and nothing to cause the solicitors to interpret it in this way – they did not even know about it, until the solicitors informed them that they had been left money in this way. It is surely the case that if someone leaves instructions in a will, the beneficiaries have a duty to accept what that person has requested. No evidence has been presented which suggests the political parties were shown this will and did anything to make it be interpreted this way. Rather it seems they accepted what they were told, and withdrew that acceptance once it became clear the wording as not as it had originally been said it was.

    Suppose some solicitors had contacted you, and had told you that someone had left a million pounds to be given to the people living in the house where you lived. Your next step, surely, would be to work out just who that means and decide how the money should be shared. Would it be an “appalling act of greed” to do this? It is surely the case that you have to accept what the legal authorities tell you is the case.

  • Defenestrate Clegg 14th Aug '13 - 5:03pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Nice try,.

    The government parties are not like ordinary citizens.
    They have strict guidelines on what they can and cannot accept as donations.

    To compare the situations is meaningless.

  • Dave Orbison 14th Aug '13 - 5:26pm

    @ Matthew Huntsback

    From actual experience, as opposed to the hypothetical situation you suggest, I do know from personal experience how this works. Several years ago I was indeed and unexpectedly named as a beneficiary in a Will. In that case, all the beneficiaries received a copy of the Will – I assume this is standard practice. If, in the case of Joan Edwards, the Will stated ‘whichever Government’ as opposed to ‘whichever Party in Government’, I think, as others has posted, it is crystal clear as to her intent. Surely, anyone remotely interested in politics in the UK knows that Party does not equal Government, unless of course we were in China.

  • Ian Patterson 14th Aug '13 - 6:01pm

    This sad, desparate story is as bad as it seems to be. Due diligence should have been carried out somewhere. Unless the deceased lady specified a party, it was insane for use to accept the gift, bearing in mind the all too predictable reaction it has caused. Labour and co cannot morally high tone on matter, given their record of loans v gifts under Blair. but that does not exculcapate us from this situation.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 14th Aug '13 - 6:03pm

    Dear All,

    Thank you for demonstrating the other point I’m inclined to make…

    But in the meantime, none of you have even bothered to address the point of the article which is, in distilled form, this.

    If there are so many unanswered questions, why is it so easy to jump to a conclusion? When the Daily Mail claimed that the money had been ‘robbed’, had it consulted the Executors? Doesn’t seem very likely given their response. What led the Executors to believe that the money was due to the political parties currently in government? And why should it be assumed that the solicitors are incompetent, mendacious or worse? Is that a reasonable assumption, or does it simply suit the prejudices of either side of the argument – it could suit both sides, or either, to place the blame on them.

    As I note, there may well be more to come on this story, and it may not be to the credit of anyone. So, before manning the barricades with pitchforks and flaming torches on either side, wouldn’t it be better to be certain of the facts first?

  • Defenestrate Clegg 14th Aug '13 - 6:19pm

    @mark v

    So you will be pushing your party leadership to carry out a full investigation on it, and asking them to provide full and clear details of what the Treasury etc. had to say when approached by the lawyers ?

    All to be made public too ?

  • I’m writing to the Labour Party asking for all the money I unintentionally gave them through the political levy be repaid to me or used to help pay off the national debt.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 6:23pm

    Might one way to deal with evolving news be to say things like “If that is so, then …”? or “While I await the full facts, my initial reaction would be …”.

    Show the possibility of pitchfork action, rather than prod someone with it immediately? Or would that be too subtle for the media?

  • Ian Patterson 14th Aug '13 - 6:39pm

    The bare facts of story are good copy for hostile papers Mail etc, but it looks bad because it is bad. We were happy to trouser the cash until the negativity kicked in. Before 9 every thing was hunky dory ,by 11 the dosh was on way to HMT.

  • David

    Why were you unaware that the political fund supported Labour? Is this not pretty clear?

    Also, your choice to join the union was your own?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “How was this “an appalling act of greed”? It was the solicitors who interpreted the will as leaving money to the political parties. The political parties did nothing to cause the will to be written in this way, and nothing to cause the solicitors to interpret it in this way – they did not even know about it, until the solicitors informed them that they had been left money in this way.”

    But we know when the government became aware of this bequest, someone from both parties the (Tories) & (Liberal Democrats) would have met to discuss the bequest and how the money should be used.
    We know this happened between the 2 parties simply because, a deal was thrashed out between the 2 parties on how the money was to be divided between the 2 parties.
    In the end an agreement was made to make calculations based upon the Number of MP’s from each party and the number of Ministers.
    It stands to reason that the coalition government would have been fully aware of the wording in the will, in order for them to make the decision on how to split the money.
    Unless you are suggesting that it was the executors and solicitors who came up with this calculation on how to divide the proceeds.

    In my opinion, the moment people from both parties became aware of the wording in the will, they should have realized instantly that this money should go to the government and not to the political parties. Their moral judgement stinks and that is what most people in this country is taking issue with, and rightly so in my opinion.

  • @matt :

    “It stands to reason that the coalition government would have been fully aware of the wording in the will, in order for them to make the decision on how to split the money.”

    Not at all true.

    It stands to reason that the two government political parties (no MPs at all) were told there was a Will to split between them. The only ‘government person involved was an officer in the Treasury Solicitor’s dept who appears to have declined interest in the money on the government (state)’s behalf.

  • Are you seriously trying to tell me that nobody from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives sat down to decide on how calculations should be made to divide up the money?
    I do not buy that at all.

    Whose responsibility is it from both parties to decide the merits of a political donation?

    You cant tell me that, that is solely down to the attorney general office and the treasury solicitor.

  • These are questions that should answered.

    Considering the state of decline of “all the 3 main political” party donations. I have no doubt that there would be some kind of “heated discussion” between the coalition parties on how this money would be divided up.
    A decision was made to calculate on the basis of the number of MP’s and Minsters.

    I do not believe that this would have been something that was done by the executors , because it was not in their remit as executors of the will to come up with that sort of calculation on that basis. That means it could have only have come from someone in Government.

    I note the Cameron himself now says, after reading the “exact wording” of the will, it was the lady clear intention was to leave the money to the Government and “not” to political parties.

    So the questions should be answered who in government {from both parties} made the original judgments that they did too accept it as a political donation and negotiated the calculations on how it should be split.

    The government always harps on about transparency, so lets see some.

    If that means an apology is in order from both coalition parties for misinterpreting the bequest, then they should come forth and do so straight away. They would gain far more respect for doing so, rather than burying their heads in the sand

  • @ Simon Shaw

    “What’s it to do with the Attorney General’s Office and the Treasury Solicitor?

    What responsibility do you think the executors have?”

    I know you have claimed many times on this site before that you do not read print from the likes of the daily mail and the guardian. Perhaps it would be helpful if you were to familiarize yourself with a rolling news story then before commenting.
    The solicitors acting for the deceased, said they approached the treasury on who to make the cheque out to and the treasury solicitor and the AGO made the decision.

  • Simon have you ever made out a will yourself?

    If you have then you would know that the wording of the will has to be precise and detail the actual % proportion of the estate go to which beneficiaries.

    Since the will only named one beneficiary, the “government” it would not have been in the executors remit to make the calculation on how much proportion should be divided between the 2 parties in government,
    That decision could have only been made by *those in government*
    That is why it is right and proper for those in government who made that decision to explain themselves and why they made the interpretations that they did.

    So I am not as you say exactly wrong and would hope that when the time comes you will admit your mistake

  • Simon Shaw

    We have this strange situation where the biggest single donor to two parties in Q2 2013 is the same person.

    At the same time as this we have had a frenzy in the press about Unite supporting Labour – the union funding being something the right wingers on here continually bang on about. Unite (a union of more than a million members) gave 200K more than a woman who would surely be in line to be a Coalition Baroness if not deceased.

    I, for one, am really interested to know how this money came to be accepted by the two Government parties. If it is all above board then the transcripts of the communications made and who took the decisions and why should be made public. We, the public, can then judge on the probity.

    Party funding is a sensitive subject at the moment and everything needs to be cleaner than clean.

    Snippets of information coming from the executirs and the Government are not sufficient to allay the concerns of dodgy dealing – both sides have a vested interest to get this off the front pages as quickly as possible.

    As you on the right are fond of telling us, if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear!

  • In addition to the last post, there is another interesting point I read elesewhere.

    Even if the lady’s will was to give the money to the two Governing parties to do with as they saw fit (something I still dispute but looking at it from the other side) then isn’t it a stain on both the perty’s image that they have decided that the best thing to do with the money was to add it to their own coffers.

    Surely, they will have known that the person who bequeathed this substantial amount of money was pretty apolitical and so perhaps a more generous thing to do with it would surely have been to spend it on an apolitical good cause or charity based on the interests of said person.

    Perhaps she was a very smart lady who did it as a test to see what said Government did with the cash

    I think that it is a real stain on the images of both parties that the best thing to do was to trouser the money – it is up to them to demonstrate otherwise, if they can

  • Simon with all due respect you are talking a load of !!!! and I look forward to seeing you being proven wrong over the coming days. Whether you are humble enough to then admit this, remains to be seen. But given my past experiences with you on these forums i hardly doubt it.

  • So then Simon

    As the said clause in the will was ambiguous to say the least, what is the law/convention on situations such as this? Who makes the interpretation – just the executors or, as in this case, would they discuss it with the Government itself as we have the recipient named?

    By what decision-making process or convention did the Government/executirs then decide that it should go to the political parties rather than the Government itself?

    Finally, we hear (from a implicated party) that the lady stated she meant it to go to the party in Government – what evidence exists for this, what did she actually say? I can think of various different meanings that can be read into it depending what she actually said.

    As there has already been a drip feed of false information before the Mail found the actual will, I remain skeptical.

    This is a public interest story as it puts into question further the trustworthiness of political parties, this time including the LD who often portray themselves as above the dirty business of political funding.

    The Mail has an agenda different from mine, doesn’t mean that we can’t form a Coalition!

  • Simon Shaw

    Changing the subject I see and not answering the question on the LD grubby choice of the best way to spoend this money.

    You are definitely to the right of most LD I have had the pleasure to meet so I would say you are on the right hand side of the spectrum. I find most of you views petty-minded and lacking but that is a personal view. You may feel the same about mine but I do not have the same self-righteousness I hope

    If people do not like the funding regime of the Labour Party then they can choose not to vote for them – and Labour clearly need to clarify if they want to reform this in the future. That is to be welcomed.

    I would like to see you as vociferous concerning the Tories as you are Labour, but then again they are your partners in the choice of the best way to spend the money. I bet there was champers all round after the discussion how to split the cash

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 11:01pm

    I tend to agree with the Daily Mail on the ethics of this.

    But also, there was a big failure by the parties . According to the Mail “the donation came to light when the Electoral Commission issued a quarterly update yesterday on the funding of the political parties.” So this was a predictable event, not the 24/7 rolling news that it seems.

    Why did party PR people fail to realise that this would be news, and fail to realise that it could be presented in the way the Mail did? Probably because the whole deal was kept secret even from them, by leaders who naively assumed it would stay secret.

    The lessons are (1) better communications between leaders and the party’s press advisers, if any, are needed and (2) don’t be so bloody arrogant and greedy.

  • @Simon Shaw

    ” I have acted as an executor and also studied a certain amount of Executorship Law (albeit 30-odd years ago). Accordingly, I almost certainly know a lot more about this subject than you do.”

    Well since you are so knowledgeable on these matters. Please bless us with your professional and learned opinion.

    The will states at section 4) to be given to “whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit”

    I am interested to hear your learned opinion on what was intended in this bequest, and how as an executor you would calculate how the proceeds of the estate should be executed.

  • The more I read of that clause in the will the more convinced I am that the best possible interpretation was that the gift was to be used by the government (not the political parties who form the government) for use for governmental purposes (not for the benefit of the political parties that currently form the government). I am no expert on wills, trusts and probate but I have a degree in law plus I used to lecture in the subject so I am not a novice in interpreting clauses in wills. Why the solicitors drafted the clause in the way which is at odds with what they now claim was the testators intention is beyone me.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 14th Aug '13 - 11:33pm

    Matt,

    I made my will in December and have to disagree with you. It is strongly advised by any reputable solicitor that your will be precise. Mine is, but doesn’t have exact percentages – the bequests are for precise figures, not percentages.

    However, you aren’t obliged to accept professional advice, and not everyone accepts the recommendation. It is the right of any individual to make their Will as they see fit, or not make one at all.

    And, if the indicated beneficiary turns out to be two distinct legal personalities, as it has been interpreted by the Executors, easier to get said parties to agree a distribution amongst themselves than to leave the matter open to legal challenge. That isn’t unheard of, especially when a bequest is made to an organisation which has subsequently split – I was on the management board of a campaign group that experienced just such a problem a few years ago.

    But this has been a truly enlightening debate, with non-experts claiming all sorts of knowledge, including certainty as to the intent of an old woman who, according to her friend of forty years, was a private person, and who had given no indication of such wealth.

    The whole story is most unedifying, as has been much of the response. All that I’ve really reminded of is that partisan politics, which leaves no room for doubt, and presumes that anyone holding an alternative view to their own is a fool, or a knave, or both, is a blight upon our body politic. And you wonder why most ordinary people shy away from politics…

  • @Simon Shaw

    But is it not the case that once a beneficiary has been notified that they are to receive proceeds from a will, they are also supplied with a copy of the last will and testament?

    Once both parties received a copy of the will, they should have seen clearly seen that it was the ladies intention that the proceeds of the will were for the purposes of the “government” and not the “political parties”.

    Therefore, those responsible in each of the two parties for accepting political donations lacked moral integrity by accepting this as a political donation to line their own coffers with.

    That is what is so distasteful in this whole sorry saga and I fail to see why both parties will not hold their hands up and admit to making the mistake and apologies. And that is why a majority of the country are so upset by these events.

  • @Mark Valladares

    “I made my will in December and have to disagree with you. It is strongly advised by any reputable solicitor that your will be precise. Mine is, but doesn’t have exact percentages – the bequests are for precise figures, not percentages.”

    Well I can only talk from my own personal experiences from my own will. I recently had to update mine as me and my partner entered a civil partnership in March this year.
    And we were strongly advised by our reputable solicitor that percentages should be used if there is likely to be more than one beneficiary.
    Of course you can stipulate a precise amount if you wish to donate a specific amount to a specified beneficiary and you know there is going to be residual sums left after paying all duties etc.
    You can also stipulate that you want all proceeds left after all duties have been paid to go to a single beneficiary.
    However, in the case of the majority of people writing wills, who do not know exactly what residual monies will be left at their time of passing, it is usual practice to write the will in terms of percentages.

    Since in this particular case, the will was written to have a sole beneficiary, therefore there was no need to specify amounts or percentages.

    That is why I am of the belief that the executors would not have been in the position to make a calculation on how the proceeds should be divided between the 2 parties. And you say in your comments
    “And, if the indicated beneficiary turns out to be two distinct legal personalities, as it has been interpreted by the Executors, easier to get said parties to agree a distribution amongst themselves than to leave the matter open to legal challenge.”
    This is what I believe happened between the 2 parties in government.
    And there lies in the problem, Because the 2 parties should have made the right moral judgement in the first place and made sure the proceeds where donated in its entirety to a good cause within the government for the benefit of the nation, rather than to line the parties coffers.

  • So, 24 hours on what have we learnt about this affair? Mostly, that there a significant number of contributors here that will not modify their opinion in the face of evidence. Here’s a beginner’s guide to the specious ‘reasoning’ they use:

    1. It was in the Daily Mail, therefore it cannot be true (either the facts or the outrage).

    This is nothing more than obvious bias. Some of us choose to make our minds up based on the evidence, not which newspaper or other medium it happens to appear in. The fact that the DM is wrong 95% of the time is not a reason to dismiss everything they say.

    2. faux moral outrage

    Personally, I am outraged. I’m mostly outraged at the fact that people are still defending this and still spinning despite the emerging evidence (the wording of the will and the testimony of the lady’s friends). I didn’t realise my outrage was made up – some people on here clearly know me better than I do – and they clearly know that the widespread condemnation is ‘faux’ too. Astonishing.

    3. You can’t comment on Joan Edwards wishes unless you personally knew her.

    So, 99.9999% of the population are denied an opinion. This is clearly absurd and clearly anti-liberal and anti-democratic. By logical extension it is would also be true that nobody can defend the idea that the money was left to a party rather than the government almost nobody is qualified to say that that was her wish(according to the specious reasoning). Furthermore, when it is pointed out with a credible link to a credible piece of journalism that her friends wouldn’t have wanted the money to go to a political party, the response is that the journalism is poor and it can’t be true because……. wait for it……..

    4. It’s in the Guardian.

    This is nothing more than obvious bias.

    5. You cannot comment on her wishes unless you are a probate solicitor.

    Again, this is anti-democratic and anti-liberal. There is only sentence in the Will that is relevant and you need nothing more than a reading age of your average 10 year old to understand it. Despite this, the 90% (or whatever it is) of the population who do have a reading age greater than a 10 year old are apparently denied an opinion. Despite the fact that a good proportion of the population would immediately realise that the Will is badly written, we are still supposed to only listen to an expert group that comprises of the the kind of expert that drafted the Will!

    6. Projection, projection, projection

    as Freud would say. Simply claim, without deliberate irony or insight into your own thought processes or the reasoning of others that anyone that disagrees with you is suffering from your own lack of reasoning ability. Examples include: accusing others of rushing to a judgement when you yourself unquestioningly believed the first thing that came along to support your opinion, accusing anyone that disagrees with you of political bias despite the fact that that is exactly who you reached your conclusion, accusing others of not wanting to wait for the facts but then don’t change your own opinion even when the facts become available e.g. the Will being made public, etc.

    Anyway, I’m willing to change my mind. Firstly I’d like to see some form of serious documentary evidence that Miss Edwards wanted her money to go to the political party of the day. If the solicitors made some notes of their conversation this might be helpful, but, as Tony Dawson commented yesterday:

    “So this Solicitor wrote one thing in the Will and something quite different in notes he has kept for 12 years to remind himself what the Will was actually meant to mean??”

    Exactly. The Will is the only legal document that can be used to determine her wishes. They wrote it. Why would they write something different in their notes that contradicted her wish to leave it to the government? Why would someone make such an extremely unusual bequest (the executors interpretation of the Will)? – people makes bequests all the time to political parties and to the government of the day. I’d like to see someone come up with an example of someone leaving a bequest to the party that happens to be in power. I’d like to see someone come up with a credible explanation as to why someone would do this. These are interesting questions and I’m happy to listen to anyone that come up with some sensible answers, but please don’t come out with the kind of nonsense contained in the six examples I gave above.

  • Richard Shaw 15th Aug '13 - 7:34am

    This whole episode rather restores one’s faith in our politicians, for they have acted most reasonably compared with the press and the fickle and somewhat hostile commentariat. After all, the responsibility for the Will itself lies with the deceased and their solicitors, the Executors for the interpretation of the Will and for judging what was appropriate. What has happened here could be an example of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, where an unpopular minority (politicians) are bullied out of funds that the Executors were content to give them and from whom have come no complaints.

    People argue that the parties have a ‘moral obligation’ to give the bequest to the nation because of what they, the public, interprets in the will (ignoring legality and, it seems, the morality around ignoring the wishes of the deceased and the executors). Does they mean to suggest that it’s immoral for any party, particularly governing Parties, to accept any legacies, especially in times of austerity? Does that extend to other organisations such as Charities? If my beloved granny leaves some money to ‘the donkey sanctuary’ and doesn’t specify which sanctuary, should the money go to HMRC for the benefit of all donkeys everywhere? If I donate a tenner to the party, is it moral that it should that be confiscated by the Treasury as long as there is a national debt to pay off?

    Finally, to those who are hostile to the parties ‘lining their coffers’ – democracy needs active and adequately funded governing and opposition parties to function and this is expensive (leaflets don’t grow on trees!). If you degrade and diminish parties and politics, you are not ‘benefiting the nation’ and will surely end up with the politicians and Government you deserve.

  • I am no fan of the daily mail or the telegraph, but i do try to read all print from most news providers because i take interest in how things are reported in the press.
    Usually I am outraged at the daily mail because of their extreme right wing views and their constant barrage of stigmatization against the most vulnerable people n society.

    I do it find it rather odd however that you would call this particular piece of journalism “politically motivated clap trap dressed up as faux moral outrage” especially since the mail are right wing supporters of the Conservatives, and they will do all they can to help get these voted back to in government. The mails article where extremely critical towards the Conservatives in their coverage, which is highly unusual.
    furthermore, your accusations towards posters on here where you said “and certain partially anonymous (and partial) posters on here.” is also unreasonable in my opinion.
    Some people are strongly outraged by this sorry ordeal, and it is right and proper for them to be able to express their opinions and grievances. We live in a supposed democratic society where everyone has a voice and has the right to be heard.
    I commend the team of LDV for running so many articles on this issue and allowing free comments. It is more than can be said for Conservativehome. which did not run a single article on an important rolling news story.

  • Even if the Liberal Democrats did keep the money, how do you think it would look when a Judge orders you to pay it to the government?

  • Tim Pollard 15th Aug '13 - 8:24am

    I fully agree with this article. I find it really depressing that so many people, including many who comment here, always seem to assume that the explanation for everything is either:
    A) someone else’s incompetence or
    B) someone else’s corruption
    Even though we ALL know of examples in our own lives where things are different to how they appear at first glance, once you get into the details.
    We all know that real life is complicated, and yet when it comes to our interpretation of the media, we’re all as happy to leap to ridiculous conclusions as much as anyone.
    It’s occasionally really refreshing to hear from someone who doesn’t think that if only people would listen to them, the world would be a perfect place.

  • @Tim Pollard
    Here’s what Alistair Carmichael said (on Simon McGrath’s facebook group):
    ” I had no part in the decision but given the terms of the will as it was written (and signed, presumably) we could not have held on to the money. If what the solicitors say is true then it sounds like they did not draft the will conform to their client”s instructions. It would only be a matter of time before there was a challenge from some quarter and the court would only look at the terms of the will. If you think it looks bad now then think how it would look when we were ordered to hand it over by a court. There should be no blame attached to the party here but we could not keep the money.”

    The logical implication of his comment is that the solicitor’s WERE incompetent in writing the Will.No assumptions have been made – their incompetence is all too clearly demonstrated by the evidence. To deny that evidence is an baseless assumption.

    “ridiculous conclusions ”
    Which ridiculous conclusion exactly? Can you please explain how the conclusion about their incompetent writing of the Will is ridiculous?

    The bit Carmichael says about ‘signed’ is important. The wording of the Will says the money is to be left to the government and that is the document that Joan Edwards signed. Her wish was for the money to be left to the government.

  • People getting fired up here about who is trying to rip off the will, who is trying to interpret for their own benefit etc Anti-politician witch-hunts, rabid media etc. Surely, the nub of the case here is what has been pointed out on another thread, ie that what is actually written in the will, and what the executor concerned has said in a statement are two different things. This should not be happening, and speaks of considerable lack of understanding, and not really being up to the task of administering the will. The last thing that someone should encourage, as a professional adviser to those making their wills, is ambiguity. This will always cause trouble. Why, if Mrs Edwards wanted a party donation (even if the bizarre idea that it should be to the governing party, which as I said in another post doesn’t really make sense) was this not clearly written in the will itself? The executor issue is further complicated by the fact that there is no-one around apparently, who was close enough to Mrs Edwards to have talked with her when she was making the will to further explain her wishes at that time.

    I imagine that the written, signed and witnessed document takes precedence over any other comments made at the time, even if someone has kept additional notes?

  • Steve – “People make bequests all the time ….. to the Government of the day”. Assuming this is true, that I find immensely pleasing. Is that other people’s experience? Do you have a lot of evidence of this, Steve? If so, have you some examples?

  • I find the approach of the LD on here very sad but suggests that their moral authority is shot:

    Thios is politically motivated by the Mail, just as the hot air that comes from the mouths of the Coalition on the economy (the next Greece, bankrupt, all Labour’s fault, credit car full etc.) – the whole agenda is set by political machinations

    I repeat what I have said before and not seen dealt with satisfactorally

    i. This was a massive bequest – the biggest to both parties in Q2 2013, and from an unknown benefactor. Surely due diligence would have shown she was an apolitical person. It is inconceivable that the LD or Tories did not know some of her background or the contents of the will before accepting it. The idea that just a cheque arrived is mendacious to say the least, or it shows that you willa ccept money from anywhere!

    ii. I want to know by what mechanism that the executors made this decision and what role the Government had. Again a lot of supposition but, because this bequest is so large and ambiguous, I as would like to see that all was done above board and there was no manipulation of the lady’s intention. The sole reason we have is that the executor has claimed she meant ‘party’ instead of ‘Government’ after a discussion with her. if so, there must be a record on this. If not, then the interpretation calls into question their competence. Simon Shaw, just a verbal assurance from them is insufficient as they have an interest in making it look that way.

    iii. If everything was done above board then the split must have been discussed by the parties of Government, otherwise how was it decided. Or did the executors do this without consulatation? Again, please let us know.

    iv. Finally, is the best thing that the LD and Tories could do with the money be to iuse it for their own electoral purposes. If the money came to them correctly then the most damning indictment is that thought that the best use for it was this.

    My estimation of the LD party machinery, after the report on the treatment of women in the party and now this, is at an all-time low. Clkegg has done well again hasn’t he?

    Mark Valladares,

    You are no more expert than the rest of us. As you are so informed, the please enlighten uson the exact route to how a bequest ‘for whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit” became an instruction for the two parties in the Government to use it for their own electioneering and administrative purposes?

    Either, it was wrongly taken by the political parties rather than the Goernment or the the two parties between them decided that the best thing they could do is to use it for themselves.

    Grubby and seedy

  • I tend to give more credence to those who have expertise in this field and value those opinions.
    in another article in the Daily mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2393999/Spinsters-solicitors-duck-cover-try-clear-blame-bequest-finding-way-party-coffers.html
    2 highly respected people who have expertise within this field have been quoted and gave their professional opinion.

    “Richard Roberts, who chairs the Law Society’s wills and equity committee, said: ‘Wills are construed extremely tightly and I have now seen a copy of Miss Edwards’s will. It does say quite specifically “for whichever government” . . . it does not say “for which political party shall form the government. f that’s what Miss Edwards intended, the solicitors writing the will should have said that. They didn’t.’
    Asked if the verbal clarification secured by the executors trumped what was written down, Mr Roberts said: ‘No. The will is crystal-clear on the face of it.
    and
    later on it goes to say
    “Edward Fraser, a wills specialist at London solicitors Colemans CTTS, added: ‘It seems to be very ambiguous and unusual how it was drafted by the solicitor. It is very woolly.
    ‘I would not have approached it like this. If she gave these instructions, they should have been crystalised in a “letter of wishes”, so her executors had proper guidance.”

  • @Tim13
    From yesterday’s Telegraph:

    “Leaving a bequest to the nation is not unusual. In 2011-12, people gave more than £1million to the Government specifically as a gift to the nation.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10242041/Coalition-parties-to-give-520k-spinster-donation-to-Treasury.html

  • “I imagine that the written, signed and witnessed document takes precedence over any other comments made at the time, even if someone has kept additional notes?”

    That’s my understanding. The courts can interpret a will based on other information but only if the wording of the will is actually unclear. Drafting a will in an unclear way on the basis that their is other information to clarify would seem to be a strange way of going about it! And as I’ve said elsewhere the more unusual a bequest, the more care you would have thought should be exercised on making sure it is drafted in a clear way.

    That said I really can’t see that much blame attaches to the parties here, there are numerous cases of people being the unexpected (or even undeserving) recipients of bequests. Even if they had seen the actual wording of the bequest and disagreed with it, if they were told by the executors that this was her clear wish as expressed at other times then that would be satisfactory.

  • @Tim Pollard,

    This is what Alistair Graham, the fromer chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, had to say about the solicitors on R4 (extract taken from the Daily Telegraph):

    “Sir Alistair said that if the wording of the will was accurate then the executors had to explain how they decided that Miss Edward considered the money should be given to the parties as donations.
    He added: “I am rather staggered really that the executors of the will who are responsible for distributing the assets that arise from a deceased estate have interrupted the [reported] words in the will if they are accurate,”

    Can you tell me why you appear to think that such opinions (of a serious-minded individual with plenty of relevant experience interviewed on a serious-minded radio programme) are ridiculous?

  • Hywel

    We understand that people can receive bequests etc, but this has ti be taken in the context of political funding.

    We do not know what the executors did or said and the role of Government in the decision. There have been drips of info saying certain legal officers of the Government were consulted. From all the ‘experts’ have said on here is that it is solely a decision of the executors. I would, therefore, like to know who was consulted and what their advice was?

    I keep repeating this, this was no 500 quid – this was100K making a substantial proportion of LD funding in Q2.

    Surely also the parties would have done due diligence on the bequest so I assume they would know the terms of the will. Surely any decent person would have questioned what they should use this money for? Or are the LD not decent?

  • As I believe that I have said previously – what is interesting is that this almost certainly only came to light because there was a Coalition government, and hence two separate parties in government. If a single party had been governing alone, and they had got such a bequest, nobody would really have noticed but just passed over it as a random bequest to a single party – it is simply that the same donor appeared to both parties that meant people started asking questions.

    Clearly the moral is don’t use that particular firm of Bristol solicitors to write, or execute a will – incompetence all around!

  • @bcrombie
    From the comments I’ve read on this issue from people that appear to be informed, it would be highly unusual for the recipients of the bequest not to have been provided with a copy of the Will at the time the bequest was given. As such, serious questions remain.

    Stating that there was no reason to question the executor’s decision really isn’t good enough given (a) the size of the bequest (b) the highly irregular nature of the executor’s interpretation of the bequest and (c) the fact that the executor’s interpretation is clearly at odds with the written Will which would almost certainly have been made available to the Lib Dems and Conservatives at the time.

  • Steve

    Amazing how party funding principles become so lax when it is the LD in receipt.

    On the face of it, it seems that the lady’s wishes have not been followed to the strict reading of the will. The executors have, for some reason, interpreted it in a different way to how most people would.

    We though should just assume all is fine and dandy and stop asking questions – swap LD for Tory alone or Labour and we would see Simon Shaw et al on here decrying them – or most probably just the Labour Party as it seem to be all friends together with the Tories at the moment

  • Yes, thanks, Steve. Some research necessary, then, to establish how many donations per year, and whether they went to specific services, or like this one “sole discretion of Govt”. I still doubt the Telegraph’s description “not unusual”.

    Relative to points made by bcrombie, I would think the wording of the will, in saying “at the sole discretion of the Government” would rule out party donations, as there are many rules covering Government conduct, which explicitly separate Government and Party activity. There is always an issue if “Government money” is being spent on party activity, outside of very tight prescribed guidelines.

  • Simon Shaw

    Well, the bequest was not to the LD party it was to the Government. How it got into your party coffers is a nmatter we still have no clarity on.

    Surely, when accepting such a large donation (perhaps someone could tell me how many 100K personal bequests the LD receive in a year) from an unknown benefactor, due diligence would be done to look at whether it should be accepted or not. or do the LD accept donations without checking?

    If due diligence was done then it would be clear that the lady was apolitical (from the wording of the bequest) and that perhaps as a party with supposedly high moral standards, it would be more appropriate to spend the money on something to commemorate her and her civic pride. Perhaps you see this as being ludicrous but I think it says more about you than me!

    Perhaps she was very smart and set is a test for moral propriety of whoever was in Government

    Political Party funding is a mess and needs sorting out. I have no issues with people leaving money to political parties as it is also a civic act, but this case was different and, as I said before, looks very grubby indeed.

  • @bcrombie

    “How it got into your party coffers is a nmatter we still have no clarity on.”

    Yes, we do. In short, her solicitors confirmed that it was meant as donation to whatever party was in government. It was then agreed how it would be split and the money was donated.

  • Simon Shaw

    It is not incorrect – it is what she said in her will. Where do the words Liberal Democrats appear?

    The executors interpreted that to mean the LD/Tories by some way we have yet to understand clearly – and that point needs clarification and openness as to how they came by that decision. All we have is uncorroborated comments from the solicitors who have not provided any evidence that what they say is true – in fact seeing they took the decision they ‘would say that, wouldn’t they’.

    Wills are legal documents and are not just there for someone to ‘decide’. Perhaps the Government as a state body should contest. It is then for the legal bodies to ‘decide’ – the executor of the will could be liable for any errors made I believe

    The moral point still stands, apolitical was probably wrong, not party political is probably correct.

    After due diligence on this a party with high moral standards which had a benefited from such a bequest (not defining the party it should go to) would not have decided to pocket the money.

    You may find this ‘ludicrous’ but I am convinced many people will think otherwise

  • Simon Shaw/ATF

    Which we have already acknowledged but how did they come to that decision and who did they discuss it with in Government – because there was discussion with the legal officers of the Government, we know that And was it just the executors who decided on the split or were the parties involved? I would like to see the Government as a state body (and heir defined in the will) challenge the decision of the executors. As a tax payer I am a potential benefactor!

    I also never said there was necessarily collusion here – what I do say is that any party receiving this money from an unknown benefactor would have had to do due diligence (I hope but with your record in this area who knows!) and seen what was written in the will. A party with some morals would have seen this was not a party political donation. Did the party ask the reasoning for the executors decision or was it just Grabbit and Run.

    I still believe that a bequest like this should have been used for some Government project in her memory. A donation to a hospital, or school etc. A party with moral standards would have done this. Or do you still think it is ‘ludicrous’?

  • @Simon Shaw
    “It is the executors who are responsible here”

    From a legal point of view you may be right. From a moral and an electoral point of view I think the electorate will think differently. As a political party, the Liberal Democrats will be judged by who they accept money from, the manner in which they accept money and, in the case of a bequest, the manner in which that money is used. I believe that most people will judge, in this instance, that the Lib Dems took the money knowing full well that the executors had messed up (given that it is hard to believe that officials were not aware of the wording of the bequest), choosing to turn a blind eye to what the lady actually wanted the money to be spent on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Aug '13 - 11:02am

    matt

    It stands to reason that the coalition government would have been fully aware of the wording in the will, in order for them to make the decision on how to split the money. Unless you are suggesting that it was the executors and solicitors who came up with this calculation on how to divide the proceeds.

    The story that has been given to us is that the executors of the will made the decision that the intention was that the money should go to the party which manages Her Majesty’s Government, and this was put to someone involved with the government or the parties as a conundrum – how do you deal with this when there is a coalition government? The conundrum was answered.

    I write “Her Majesty’s Government” here as I think it is a way of establishing a separation between the term “Government” and terms which mean the political control of the government. Casual confusion of terminology has, I suspect, contributed to what occurred here. Media commentators seem keen on using the word “Coalition” where prior to May 2010 the word “Government” would have been used. This seems to be done by commentators who have a snide reason to make reference to the coalition – left-wing commentators do it to attack the Liberal Democrats by emphasising their role in supporting the right-wing policies of the government, right-wing commentators do it to attack the socially liberal wing of the Conservative Party. But it is a wrong usage, as wrong as using the phrase “Labour Party” to mean “Government” previously. When I pay my taxes to “the government”, I was not paying them to the Labour Party prior to May 2010, and I am not paying them to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties now.

    In my opinion, the moment people from both parties became aware of the wording in the will, they should have realized instantly that this money should go to the government and not to the political parties.

    Yes, I agree. But that does indeed seem to be what was done.

    The allegation being made here is that politicians saw a will in which a bequest was made to “the government” and interpreted that as meaning to the political parties whose MPs sit on the government benches. But if that were really the case, would they not have acted similarly with all those other wills leaving money to “the government”? Such bequests are not uncommon, indeed, when I get round to writing my will, I may well make such a bequest myself,it would be in line with my beliefs on equality and the divisions in society caused by inheritance. So far as I am aware, this has never happened. Why should this particular will have been treated any differently?

    It seems to me that the story as we have been told is correct – the executors of the will made the eccentric decision that it was meant to be to “the political party which forms the government”, and some people in the parties sat down to try and work out how this should be interpreted, coming up with the idea of a 20:80 split. I can see how this could happen – it’s an interesting problem, one of those things which wonkish types love to think about, and perhaps this prompted them to set about thinking about it without first looking thoroughly to see if the wording really did bear the “party” interpretation. It is the duty of the executors of the will to interpret its meaning, and I can see how people who are not politically knowledgeable might have got this wrong, the fact that the press so often use the party political term “Coalition” when they mean the non-party political term “Government” indicates that people who ought to know better often do the same.

    Someone whose first name is (very oddly) “Defenestrate” and whose surname is the same as the Leader of the Liberal Democrats wrote in reply to my earlier message “Nice Try”. What does Mr (Mrs?) D. Clegg mean by this? What does s/he suppose I am trying to do? The words “nice try” imply a clever but weak argument made out of underlying bias. Since much of what I write in Liberal Democrat Voice is attacks on Mr N. Clegg, a man I dislike, who I believe is lacking in competency in many ways, and who I would dearly like to see brought down, why should I as M(r)(s) D. Clegg seem to be alleging, go to contrived lengths to defend the party leadership here? Why is is that though my strong anti-(N)Clegg bias is obvious from my postings, as soon as I make a post which out of fairness does not take an anti-(N)Clegg line, I am attacked as if I am another of those “My Dear Leader, right or wrong,but always right because he is The Leader” people?

    My real concern here is about the way this incident has been used as an excuse it make a sustained attack on democracy. Underlying the attacks is the thinking that political parties are bad things, that giving money to political parties is a bad thing, that having election campaigns and the like (which is what the money is used for) is a bad thing. So, people will moan and regard it as outrageous should it be suggested that government money is given to political parties to held fund their campaigning. Then they will moan and regard it as outrageous if political parties receive money in donations. Who do they think SHOULD pay for the campaigning? If the answer is “the candidate”, well, there you go, they are saying that we should have MPs composed solely of people who have tens of thousands of pounds of their own money they can afford to use in this way.

    Of course nearly all of the people who moan in this way lack the capacity to think through the logical implications of what they are saying. The same people who will moan about almost any way in which political parties might get funding will also moan and say how bad the parties are if, come election time, they don’t get literature explaining their policies from all the parties.

  • “It is the executors who are responsible here (I think I have said that about 7 times).”

    Nonsense. If someone leaves money in a will to John Smith, and the executors for some reason give the money to you Joe Bloggs, and if you Joe Bloggs accept that money in the knowledge that you weren’t the intended beneficiary, then you share the responsibility for that action. Certainly you share the moral responsibility, and I’d be very surprised if you could evade legal responsibility as well if you were aware that the testator’s wishes had not been carried out.

    And if you immediately give the money to John Smith when the facts that you’ve known all along become known to the world at large, then you end up looking very dishonest indeed.

  • Matthew

    I read what you say and I don’t want to give the impression that donating to political parties should be discourage. It should be encouraged

    On the point of people in the parties not looking at the will – I find that complacent to say the least as such a large donation from an unknown benefactor should be investigated thoroughly. Who knows where the money could have come from. In this case that part is fine but surely the people involved would have seen the wording and that should have raised alarm bells.

    I still maintain that both the parties who accepted this for their own party coffers behaved very poorly indeed and should have thought more about what to do with it. Just to accept it like any other donation is bad form.

    I also get a little peeved by people on here who are the first to jump on funding shenanigans in other parties (especially that invole Trade Unions) do not see why this is perceived badly. It almost seems, ‘nothing to do with us guv’ – that diminishes the party as well in my view.

  • Those of you arguing that it was a legitimate interpretation of the term ‘government’ to mean ‘the parties in government’ need to think a bit further about what that actually means.

    This interpretation requires us to believe that Ms. Edwards was politically engaged enough to donate her worldly goods to a political party for campaigning purposes but that she also believed that a sitting government should always be re-elected no matter what kind of government it is. So, if you accept that absurdity, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have both taken a donation designed to promote the notion of the one-party state. This in itself should have caused a democrat to refuse the donation. However, it is an absurd interpretation of what is a very specific statement.

    This bequest was obviously to the government and speaks of a belief that the state is a force for good. To defend its diversion to party campaign funds is to trample on Ms. Edwards’ generosity. It is not the fault of the political parties that the executors got it wrong but it is their fault that they did not correct the mistake. To argue that they are not culpable for taking advantage of an obvious error is to argue that there is no place for honesty and trust in human relationships, that it is only right that each person should take advantage of another’s error, that the parties of government should be held only to the playground rules of finders keepers.

    So, next time I am given too much change in a shop I can be excused for pocketing it, secure in the knowledge that it was the cashiers fault.

  • @bcrombie. I was young and didn’t realise for several years the political fund wasn’t used just for campaigning. I was happy to join the union, however I had to join because at the time (even under Thatcher’s Government) it was a closed shop!

  • David

    So we are talking 30 or so years ago – I think there are a number of people, me included, who would want some money back for things that were seen to have happened back in those days. Bit late now though.

    Better to live in the here and now, instead of harking back to a past generation

  • I think both the Conservatives and Lib Dems are incredibly lucky in having Miliband as opposition leader. This is the biggest scandal to hit the coalition since its formation yet he has remained silent. All those awkward questions that need to be asked are simply not being asked (as of yet). It is inconceivable that party officials did not know the words of the Will when they received the bequest – a Will that unambiguously stated that the government was the intended beneficiary.

    Credit is due to the Daily Mail. I hope they win an award for this.

    There’s an excellent article on this subject by Alex Andreou in the New Statesman:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/alex-andreou/2013/08/tale-joan-edwardss-bequest-shows-worst-sleaze-immoral-not-illegal

  • @Simon Shaw

    “At least matt finally seems to have seen the light when he relates: ‘Edward Fraser, a wills specialist at London solicitors Colemans CTTS, added: ‘It seems to be very ambiguous and unusual how it was drafted by the solicitor. It is very woolly.”

    Yes, but that does not change the fact that I am still of the opinion that both parties had a duty of care to carry out Due diligence before accepting funds as a political donation. Upon seeing the content of the will and the actual wording, they should have come to a different conclusion than the one in which they did, to split the money and pay it in to their party coffers.
    Until someone from the government & both parties issues us with a statement and gives a full explanation on what happened and who made the decisions. I will remain unsatisfied, as I am sure will a majority of many others.

    It is not an unreasonable request, especially to a government that harped on and on about being the most transparent government ever.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Aug '13 - 5:10pm

    bcrombie

    I still maintain that both the parties who accepted this for their own party coffers behaved very poorly indeed and should have thought more about what to do with it. Just to accept it like any other donation is bad form.

    Yes, I agree.

    However, the claim that is being made is that the political parties themselves were the prime movers in the decision to interpret “government” as meaning “political party”. I’ve seen no evidence for that, rather we have been told that the executors of the will made that decision. Remember also when this story first broke, it was written up, not just by Stephen Tall here but before that by media commentators stating that the word “party” did appear in the will.

    We have not been told who actually made the decision that, under the assumption it was “party”, it should be an 80:20 Conservative-LibDem split. So to suggest the whole party is to blame when it could just be incompetence lower down, possibly by a civil servant rather than a party official seems to me to be a twist too far. We have not been told yet who released this information. So can’t say that senior party figures had the chance to think about it and respond appropriately – it went very quickly from being put in terms of how to treat the word “party” in a coalition situation to the accusations of greed. Until I see evidence otherwise, I think it’s fair to assume that senior party members did not have chance to see the words and think about this, and agree it should not be taken as a donation to party funds.

    I quite agree that caution should be exercised before accepting large donations, but that’s a lesser crime than the one in the accusation of deliberate manipulation of the intention in the will to take the money. So really, it’s cock-up rather than conspiracy.

  • Ed Shepherd 15th Aug '13 - 5:41pm

    “@bcrombie. I was young and didn’t realise for several years the political fund wasn’t used just for campaigning. I was happy to join the union, however I had to join because at the time (even under Thatcher’s Government) it was a closed shop!”

    Lots of closed shops still exist: doctors, accountants and solicitors for example. Mrs Thatcher was happily a member of a closed shop: barristers. Oddly, those who condemn closed shops never condemn these expnsive closed shops that have the effect of keeping the poor out of professions. Personally, I have probably contributed a lot to political parties by working for companies or purchasing from companies that unknown to me were making political contributions. It’s annoying but until everyone involved agrees a way of funding parties that does not involve giving a bias to funding by wealthy people or corporations, we are stuck with the current haphazard system that results in problems such as the one this will has caused.

  • Matthew

    I don’t have any evidence that the parties behaved badly, and just highlighted that I would hope some due diligence was done after a donation of this size.

    What has disappointed more has been the reaction of some of the posters on here. To suggest that an idea to use this money for public good rather than electioneering was derided as ‘ludicrous’ and I have seen a complete lack of morals from people who should have known better. Even when the wording of the. Will was common knowledge

    As I said before it is a bit grubby

  • The word ‘government’ is unambiguous.

  • For example, can you see the major potential difficulty with this: “for whatever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit.””

    The question for the Tories and the Lib Dems isn’t really whether the wording of the will is ambiguous. It’s whether, having seen that wording, they could reasonably have believed that by ‘Government’ the testator had meant ‘political party’.

    Do you think they could? If so, can you explain how?

  • The word ‘government’ might be unambiguous by itself, but the words ‘whichever Government is in office at the date of my death’ is not, or at least does not have the same meaning. Presume, if you will, that Mrs Edwards had died on 11 May 2010. The “Government in office at the date of her death” would have been Mr Brown’s Labour government; but by the time her will had been opened, the Government was Mr Cameron’s Coalition government. To whom, then, would the bequest have been issued? The word “whichever” supposes, not a continuing entity such as the Treasury, but something which can change from time to time.

  • For that matter, it could mean the Government of Swaziland.

    Clearly the will was badly drafted, but I think the relevant question for the parties is whether they could reasonably have understood that wording to imply a bequest to a political party rather than to the government.

  • @David
    “The word “whichever” supposes, not a continuing entity such as the Treasury, but something which can change from time to time.”

    That may be true, however, following the logic through, the bequest cannot be given to a previous government since it has ceased to exist. It is clearly a clerical error, but the meaning is still beyond doubt – the word ‘government’ is still unambiguous. Not only that, but the idea of someone leaving the money to the party in power on the day of death is completely absurd and almost certainly without precedent. As Alistair Carmichael stated – the two parties would have been eventually ordered to pay the money to the government if they hadn’t paid the money to the government yesterday. That’s how obvious the mistake is. It is immediately obvious to anyone that reads the Will and it would have been obvious to whoever read the Will at the time the bequest was made (with the bizarre exception of the self same executors who made the illogical statement in the Will about the government on the day of her death).

  • Dan

    We don’t know what their actions were

    As you know everything then can you please enlighten us:

    Focusing on

    Who did the due diligence on the bequest and what form did it take?

    What was the advice of the Government Law Officers that were consulted?

    Who decide on the split – the executors or the beneficiaries?

  • “Is that legally of the same status as the other clerical error which was that it was (apparently) Joan Edwards’ wish that the bequest(s) should go to the political party in government?”

    There is no evidence to suggest she wanted the money to go to the party in office. The only evidence that can be used is the Will which clearly and only uses the word ‘government’ as the beneficiary. The money cannot be paid to anyone else other than the government.

    Can you tell me why Alistair Carmichael came to the conclusion that the money had to be paid back because the money would eventually be ordered to be paid to the government? Can you tell me why such reasoning was readily arrived at yesterday morning by the two parties?

  • @Simon Shaw
    As Chris so brilliantly pointed out in his comment above, ‘government’ could have referred to any government in the world. That too is an ambiguity. However, it would highly unusual and highly improbable for her to have wished to leave her money to a foreign government (that she didn’t name). The same is true about her wanting to leave her money to whichever (similarly unnamed) party was in power on the day of her death. That too would have been a highly unusual and highly improbable bequest. Why would anyone choose a highly improbable interpretation over a highly probable interpretation? So, in answer to your question, if I were the executor then I would have given the money to the government as was so obviously her intention. Besides, the money could only have been left to a government given the word government was used.

  • “Who did the due diligence on the bequest and what form did it take?”
    There is no due diligence required (bar checking they are an eligible donor under PPERA

    “What was the advice of the Government Law Officers that were consulted?”
    They were consulted by the executors so that’s a matter for them

    “Who decide on the split – the executors or the beneficiaries?”
    Ultimately the executors – though they may have consulted with the beneficaries to reach an agreement (the alternative to that being taking it to the courts). That happens after the executors reached their (flawed IMO) decision that the bequest was to go to the political parties.

    @Simon – I agree with you mostly but the provision was stated as “on the date of my death” which would give a certainty as to who was in government – though it could be problematic if it was the day after an election I suppose!

    @Steve
    “Not only that, but the idea of someone leaving the money to the party in power on the day of death is completely absurd and almost certainly without precedent. ”

    The latter my be true, the former is arguable. However there is nothing to stop you leaving a bequest just on the basis that other people might think it a bit odd.

  • @Hywel
    “However there is nothing to stop you leaving a bequest just on the basis that other people might think it a bit odd.”

    There isn’t, but if there is uncertainty as to the interpretation of the Will then probability must play a part in the interpretation. If we were able to find a method of quantifying estimates of the probabilities of different interpretations with the result:

    (a) Bequest to the UK government =99.98%
    (b) Bequest to whichever party is in power on the day of death = 0.01%
    (c) Government of another country = 0.01%

    then why would anyone choose anything other than (a)? All the people trying to claim that the bequest was for a political party are clinging to the idea that the Will was ambiguous. Ambiguity (if such far-fetched probabilities can be regarded as probabilities) implies there is more than one interpretation which implies that a decision needs to be made based on likelihood. It also needs to be made on the unambiguous use of the word ‘government’. On the basis of those two arguments, I believe the money should have gone to the government. That is what I have been saying repeatedly for the last two days. That is almost certainly why the money was given to the government so hastily yesterday when her Will was made public. The money would almost certainly have been ordered to be paid to the government eventually (as Alistair Carmichael pointed out in the quote I provided earlier).

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 16th Aug '13 - 12:25am

    Dear All,

    Much against my better judgement, but after much thought, I’ve turned the comment function back on.

    And for those commenters who immediately took the opportunity to threaten me, don’t feel that you have achieved much. Please note that, whilst I really should have clamped down on the off-topic posts at a much earlier stage, I now intend to do so. There are at least three other articles where the above exchanges would have been better suited.

  • Final point on this as it seems that the LD have no more morals in accepting political funds than any other party

    Hywel there is no requirement for them to carry out due diligence but don’t you think it would have been a good idea where there has been a 100K bequest from an unknown donor?

    There are many peole who are eligible to donate, but from whom it might not be a good idea to have received money, My contention is not that she had any issues in this area but that the party would have not just have ‘received a cheque’ without looking further before cashing it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Aug '13 - 11:01am

    Chris

    The question for the Tories and the Lib Dems isn’t really whether the wording of the will is ambiguous. It’s whether, having seen that wording, they could reasonably have believed that by ‘Government’ the testator had meant ‘political party’.

    No it is not. This is what is so frustrating about this thread. I can’t see anyone here making the argument that officers of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties looked at this will and decided that “government” meant the private offices of their party. I haven’t seen anyone give facts about who made the decision and on the basis of what information. Yet comment on this issue, here and in the media, has been on the basis that people senior enough in the parties to make it appropriate to hold the whole parties responsible for their decision had deliberately decided to twist the intention of the will in this way. To me this is as prejudiced as someone who jumps to the conclusion that a person is guilty of some crime because of the colour of their skin. They are making accusations, and building further arguments on those accusations, on the basis that politics and politicians are naturally bad people and so this is the sort of thing they would have done, so therefore they must be guilty.

    The situation has been made worse by the way anyone who is trying to argue through this rationally or on the liberal principle of “innocent until proven” guilty is being dismissed as valueless, on the assumption they can only be saying what they are saying out of fanatic party loyalty, and as such cannot have any personal sense of morality and logic. Again, this comes from the underlying supposition that politics and politicians and anyone involved in it must on that basis be a bad person.

    The executors of the will have actually stated that they interpreted the will in this way. It looks to me like someone made a quick decision on how “party” should be interpreted in the coalition situation, and this got passed out to the media before there was time to think through this properly. I agree that before formally accepting the donation, senior people in the party organisation should have checked the wording of the will, and having seen what it was suggested that the executors had made an eccentric interpretation. However, if they had the opportunity to do that but did not, that’s still not the same as what is being accused – that the party organisation were the prime movers in making this interpretation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Aug '13 - 11:07am

    Matthew Huntbach

    I can’t see anyone here making the argument that officers of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties looked at this will and decided that “government” meant the private offices of their party.

    Or rather, I can see a lot of people making that argument, but no-one making that argument and then saying it was a right and correct thing to do. I can see people, including myself, arguing about how the misunderstanding might have arisen, but that’s not at all the same thing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Aug '13 - 11:33am

    Steve

    The word ‘government’ is unambiguous.

    No it’s not. It can be used to mean the permanent organisation by which the British state is run, and it can be used to mean the political management of that organisation in Parliament. Confusion of the two is shown by the common misuse in the media since 2010 of the word “Coalition” to mean what would previously have been called “Government” – if for some reason one wants to emphasise the party political nature of the political management of the state currently, the correct term now would be “Coalition government” just as previously it would have been “Labour government” and not “Labour Party”. Note how political ding-dong often makes the confusion, so for example we find taxation written up as if it is given personally to the person who is the current Chancellor of the Exchequer or to his party.

    Members of the public very often don’t have much understanding of these distinction and other constitutional matters. In fact belief that the political party whose MPs form the political control of the government is the same thing as the permanent state organisation is a very common one. In my experience, most members of the public don’t understand that political parties are private organisations.

  • “I agree that before formally accepting the donation, senior people in the party organisation should have checked the wording of the will, and having seen what it was suggested that the executors had made an eccentric interpretation.”

    Are you suggesting that, having been sent a copy of the will, no one in the parties bothered to read it? For donations totalling half a million pounds?

    If not, the relevant question is exactly what I said – whether, having seen the wording of the will, the parties could reasonably have believed that by ‘Government’ the testator had meant ‘political party’. If they decided to keep the money in the belief that it really should have gone to the government, then they are culpable, no matter whether the initial error was made by someone else.

  • Mark,

    I take it you would have preferred to see postings which are specifically about the Edwards will posted on one of the earlier threads devoted to that topic.

    Well, that’s where I last posted

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dems-to-give-partys-share-of-miss-joan-edwards-bequest-to-government-35738.html#comment-259201

    and I suspect Matthew Huntbach has (understandably) just missed it in that thread, because it’s now a rather old thread. (If he does now pick it up and write an answer, I’m not sure where he “ought” to place the answer!)

    There isn’t a simple solution, but, just because your own position on the affair is to argue that the facts are not yet clear doesn’t seem to me a valid reason to declare as “off topic” those commenters who argue that they do have enough facts to reach a conclusion.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    It is quite obvious what Joan Edwards meant – she meant that she was happy for the money to go to the government regardless of which party was administering it, i.e. she was happy for it to go to the government regardless of whether it’s a Tory government, a Labour government or a coalition government. The lawyer made a mess of wording her bequest, but it is still blindingly obvious what she meant and the decision of the executors would have been overturned if a member of the government (such as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition on the Privy Council) challenged the decision.

    The word government is still unambiguous. This is the first definition of the word I obtained by googling it just now:

    gov·ern·ment (gvrn-mnt)
    n.
    1. The act or process of governing, especially the control and administration of public policy in a political unit.
    2. The office, function, or authority of a governing individual or body.
    3. Exercise of authority in a political unit; rule.
    4. The agency or apparatus through which a governing individual or body functions and exercises authority.
    5. A governing body or organization, as:
    a. The ruling political party or coalition of political parties in a parliamentary system.
    b. The cabinet in a parliamentary system.
    c. The persons who make up a governing body.
    6. A system or policy by which a political unit is governed.
    7. Administration or management of an organization, business, or institution.
    8. Political science.
    9. Grammar The influence of a word over the morphological inflection of another word in a phrase or sentence.

    Definition 5a only applies in the present tense – as I stated earlier, the previous officers of the government under a different political party are no longer a government, therefore the bequest to ‘the government’ cannot be given to them. The word ‘government’ and the extreme irregularity of a bequest to a ruling party on the day of her death are two fundamental reasons why the bequest should not have been given to a political party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Aug '13 - 1:14pm

    Steve (in reply to me)

    It is quite obvious what Joan Edwards meant – she meant that she was happy for the money to go to the government regardless of which party was administering it, i.e. she was happy for it to go to the government regardless of whether it’s a Tory government, a Labour government or a coalition government.

    Yes, but if you think I am disputing that, you are just illustrating the point I was making, since it means you have jumped to a conclusion which is based more on prejudice than what I was actually stating.

  • Mark

    “The idea that you might use a topical issue as an example upon which to hang an argument appears to have been lost in the snowstorm of vitriol and partiality that has followed.”

    The trouble is that your statements about the topical issue in the article above are themselves quite controversial, because they presuppose that what the solicitors said about Joan Edwards’s intentions is accurate. A lot of people are sceptical about that, so what you wrote was guaranteed to provoke further comment about the issue itself.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Aug '13 - 1:48pm

    David Allen

    I suspect Matthew Huntbach has (understandably) just missed it in that thread, because it’s now a rather old thread. (If he does now pick it up and write an answer, I’m not sure where he “ought” to place the answer!)

    I have put my reply in that thread.

  • “On the other hand, some of those commenting, including you, appear to be absolutely confident that you have all of the information.
    I have to say that, if that’s what certainty does for you, it isn’t terribly edifying…”

    On the contrary, we haven’t been given all the relevant information, or anything like it.

    But we have been given the wording of the will, and we have been told the parties were made aware of that wording. That is the information my comments have been based on.

    I realise you find a lot of the comments that have been made unwelcome, but I’m not sure what you think you will achieve by making personal attacks on the people who have commented.

  • @Chris
    Quite

    The statement:

    “implying that the funds had been distributed as per her wishes and that the two parties were probably justified in accepting and, had they chosen, retaining them.”

    is controversial and is itself a rush to judgement based on a very recently published statement.

    @Matthew Huntbach.
    OK, the word government on its own may be slightly ambiguous given its misuse and that the definition of words change when people misuse them – our language does evolve in that manner. However, in all official uses of the word government (as in a Will) the word is still unambiguous in its meaning. Please understand that in debating the use of the word ‘government’ with you I am not implying that you are trying to argue that her wish was for the money to be left to a party.

    @Simon Shaw
    The contradiction of the concept of the word ‘government’ with the concept of the government on the day of the her death is illogical. It can be interpreted in at least two ways which both rely on making assumptions about part of the statement being inaccurate. To believe she meant to leave it to the party in office requires us to believe that she didn’t mean to use the word government. To believe she meant to leave it to the government requires us to believe that the bit about the day of her death was just badly written by her solicitor. Of these two possibilities, it is the mis-wording by the solicitor that is the most likely in my opinion. On top of that we have to consider the probability of her wanting to leave it to the government vs wanting to leave it to the party in power on the day of her death. The latter of these two options is highly improbable.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Aug '13 - 5:16pm

    Steve

    OK, the word government on its own may be slightly ambiguous given its misuse and that the definition of words change when people misuse them – our language does evolve in that manner. However, in all official uses of the word government (as in a Will) the word is still unambiguous in its meaning.

    Sorry, you still haven’t got my point.

    I agree the wording of the will seems clearly to mean an intention that the money goes to the state, and the interpretation of it as meaning the money should go to the political parties is eccentric. Sure, it’s a bit awkwardly worded, but the only way I can think that it got interpreted this way is that it passed through the hands of people who were quite lacking in understanding of constitutional issues, and made this mistake through the common misuse we often come across. It’s the sort of misunderstanding I often encountered when canvassing, along with many other strange things such as the supposition that because I was councillor for Downham ward I was “in charge” of all local government services in Downham.

    I can’t see senior politicians making this misunderstanding, but I can see a provincial solicitor making it, perhaps encouraged by a client who was also confused.

    The accusation that is being made in the press and by many here is that senior politicians deliberately interpreted the word “government” in this way in order to “steal” this money from where it should have gone i.e. the state. I agree, it would be appallingly bad if senior politicians really had knowingly done this. However, I have not see enough evidence that suggests this is the case, it seems to me much more likely this is a communications cock-up. That is, that someone somewhere in Westminster received a request to interpret what should be meant by “party in government” when it’s a coalition, and it went from there to suggest the 80:20 split. This then got passed around and became a news item before anyone senior got round to thinking that they really ought to check the actual wording. Yes, I agree, senior people ought to be strongly criticised if they took steps to accept the money without checking this up. But in my experience, this sort of cock-up where everyone is assuming someone else made the relevant checks is very common is real life.

    I am making this point not for any party political fanaticism, why would I do that when I am a fierce opponent of the Liberal Democrat party leadership, but because I believe in fairness, and I have enough experience in life to see how this thing could easily happen in a way other than it has been put by many of those attacking the Liberal Democrats over this issue.

  • @Mark Valladares

    This is what the Lib Dem chief whip and former solicitor said about the bequest:

    “I had no part in the decision but given the terms of the will as it was written (and signed, presumably) we could not have held on to the money. If what the solicitors say is true then it sounds like they did not draft the will conform to their client”s instructions.”

    1. He is quite certain that the terms of the Will meant that the bequest would end up with the government, not the parties.
    2. He uses the word ‘If’ with regards to the executors statement, ‘If’ is a conditional statement that implies that he thinks there could be doubt about the veracity of the statement.
    3. The end of the last sentence implies that if the solicitor’s were telling the truth then they did not represent their clients wishes in the WIll. This directly implies that they were incompetent in this regard.

    All of this is perfectly reasonable. It is hard to understand how anybody could disagree with the three points above, yet you seem to take exception to people that have simply stated the same opinions on these points, as if they are being certain about their conclusions, basing their conclusions on partial information and jumping the gun before more evidence emerges. Would you have complained about Alistair Carmichael’s comments in the same way if he had written them here?

    I disagree with Carmichael’s last sentence (I quoted the full thing earlier) about the party not being to blame though. The reason for this is (a) the competence question – even if nobody of importance was aware of the wording then that shows a failure of process which is in itself a serious concern – and (b) the turning-a-blind-eye question – if party officials knew (and they almost certainly did) about the contentious nature of the Will then why did they go ahead and take the money? Transparency would have been the best option. A press notice could have been released when the bequest and its wording became known with a statement declaring that although the executors are willing to interpret the bequest to mean the parties, further, independent, legal advice about the wording of the Will is being sought to ensure that the bequest ends up to beneficiary that Miss Edwards intended. I thought the Lib Dems were big on transparency for this kind of thing?

    The thing I really don’t understand though, Mark, is that you think other people are being partial about the facts when, for the most part, I can see lots of people using partial facts and jumping to conclusions to defend the party and I can see perfectly reasonable and pertinent questions being asked by the likes of Chris – you seem to be accusing him of behaving like he has more information than is available, but all the arguments I have read from him have been based on the various statements that have been made and are based on reasonable, logical arguments.

  • “It isn’t necessarily true that the Party official accepting the funds had seen it and therefore knew it to be contentious. It may be, but as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been proven one way or the other.”

    A Liberal Democrat spokesman has been quoted as saying that the donation had been accepted on the understanding that the executors had sought advice from both the Attorney General’s Office and the Treasury Solicitor’s Office. Surely that should have been sufficient indication that the matter was potentially contentious?

    I’m afraid that you are leaning over backwards so far to give the party the benefit of the doubt that you are liable to end up flat on your back.

  • The word ‘imply’ means that one statement is logically true as a result of another statement being true (logical necessity).

    An example:

    1. All the apples in a bag are green.
    2. I pick an apple out of the bag.

    Statements 1 and 2 imply that the apple I pick out of the bag is necessarily (certainty, inevitable consequence) green.

    You gave a quote from the solicitor:

    1. “whichever political party formed the government at the date of her death”,

    and stated that it implied that:

    2. “the funds had been distributed as per her wishes”

    AND

    3. “that the two parties were probably justified in accepting and, had they chosen, retaining them.

    Argument 2 is an absolute statement which you are stating is absolutely true as a result of Statement 1. Argument 3 is a probabilistic statement, but one which implies that it is more likely than not that the party was right in keeping the money.

    If you’d qualified the bit about the solicitor’s statement with “If what the solicitors say is true” in the manner of Alistair Carmichael this would have made the whole thing conditional on whether we believe the solicitors.

    Well, that’s what I understand my ‘imply’ as that’s how the word is used in logic (philosophy and mathematics) and it’s the way I would always use the word. However, having consulted the dictionary, it appears some people use ‘imply’ as a synonym for ‘suggests’. Is this the sense you’re using it?

  • “If you’d qualified the bit about the solicitor’s statement with “If what the solicitors say is true” in the manner of Alistair Carmichael this would have made the whole thing conditional on whether we believe the solicitors.”

    I think what Mark wrote was ambiguous. It really depends what was doing the ‘implying’ – the fact that the solicitors had said that (which fact everyone accepts is true) or the thing they had said (which thing may or may not be true). If people did misinterpret the article, they can hardly be blamed for it.

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