John Farmer, chair of the Royal British Legion, on the controversy over Tony Blair's donation

'I'm just thankful for the money,' he tells Kaye Wiggins

The decision to accept Tony Blair's pledge to donate all of the proceeds from the sale of his new book, A Journey, to the Royal British Legion was a no-brainer for the charity, says its chair, John Farmer.

The gift caused controversy, with some people criticising the donation because, as Prime Minister, Blair had sent troops to war in Iraq.

Farmer, who was elected as the charity's chair in May, says the donation was not discussed at board level because it did not need to be. "As the chair of the charity, I'm thankful for the money, and I can't see it in any other way," he said. "I'm quite comfortable with it."

Farmer says some of the charity's supporters have written letters of complaint about its decision to accept the money, and a handful have said they will no longer donate to the charity because they are uncomfortable with it being associated with the former Prime Minister. However, these are a tiny minority, he says.

"I'm disappointed that some people feel unable to donate to us, but if they choose to give to another ex-services charity instead, that's fine," he says.

Farmer has been involved with the Royal British Legion since 1971, when he joined the charity as a member, having served in the army.

"Since then, I've held every office that you can think of at the charity," he says. "I've been on its national council, I've been a trustee and I've been the vice-chair."

Farmer was elected as chair following a vote by the legion's 2,700 local branches. His tenure will last for three years, during which there will be big developments at the charity. Its 90th anniversary next year will be an important landmark, Farmer says, and will be marked with a campaign to raise £90m between September 2010 and September 2011, a figure considerably higher than the charity's usual £75m fundraising target. "It's ambitious, but it's useful to set a high target," he says.

Farmer says the charity has recently started a governance review, as a result of which it will set out its next five-year vision for the legion. He says the details will be revealed later this month, but declines to say any more about what the review might involve.

What Farmer does say is that making major changes to the charity's governance is more complicated than at other organisations. The legion has a royal charter laying out rules for its governance, which can only be amended with the consent of the Privy Council.

Farmer says it can take more than a year for major changes, such as the decision in 2005 to have appointed as well as elected trustees, to be passed. Asked whether the new arrangements will be significant enough to require the Privy Council's assent, he says: "I don't think so."

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