David Blunkett, the former home secretary and a patron of the No to AV campaign, has indicated support for the role of charities in campaigning on the forthcoming referendum on the voting system.
The support came in a letter to Titus Alexander, convenor of the political education alliance Democracy Matters, who had written to Blunkett to complain that representatives from the No to AV campaign had "inhibited debate" about the referendum by attempting to block charities from campaigning for a yes vote.
In his response to Alexander, Blunkett said: "I am personally promoting that people should vote no, but I would not want to stop others from engaging in the debate.
"From the time that I had responsibility for the Charity Commission, I was in favour, within rational bounds of the use of other people’s money and within the terms of the objectives of the charity, of organisations being able to campaign."
Alexander had complained to Blunkett that William Norton, the No to AV campaign’s referendum agent, had written to members of Democracy Matters asking them to provide "a denial to the yes campaign, for general circulation" because the umbrella body had been linked to Take Back Parliament, a group that supports electoral reform.
"These actions have cost us and other organisations a lot of time, money consulting lawyers and some anxiety," Alexander wrote.
"Your campaign has succeeded in inhibiting debate about the referendum, which I presume was the intention, but I am very concerned about the implications for the health of our democracy."
Alexander said Democracy Matters had not taken sides in the referendum debate. He told Third Sector he welcomed Blunkett’s response.
Tehmina Kazi, director of the charity British Muslims for Secular Democracy, said her charity had scrapped plans to campaign for a yes vote in the referendum because it had received a letter from the Charity Commission, prompted by a complaint from Norton, warning that trustees must be sure the campaign was in line with the charity’s objects.
"We are still going to provide our members and beneficiaries with information about both sides of the debate on AV," she said. "I think it would have been more in the interests of our charity to campaign in favour of a yes vote, but because we do not have the time or resources to make a strong legal case for this to the Charity Commission, we have backed away from it."