Editorial - Royal British Legion was right to accept Tony Blair's gift

Charities should ask whether a gift compromises a charity - not whether the donor is whiter than white, says Tristan Donovan

Tristan Donovan
Tristan Donovan

Tony Blair's choice to give the Royal British Legion the earnings from his soon-to-be-published memoir was, unsurprisingly, controversial.

Like Margaret Thatcher, Blair is a former Prime Minister who polarises opinion. Some dislike the way he changed the Labour Party and hate him for taking Britain into the Iraq War. Others admire him for the same actions.

Cynics could point to the timing of his gift - it came shortly after the Charity Commission reprimanded the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative over claims that the charity sent emails to supporters urging them to vote Labour in this year's general election.

But the debate about whether the legion should have taken the money boils down to a question of whether the reputation of a donor matters.

The idea that donors should be whiter than white is ridiculous. If that were so, at one extreme, corporate fundraising should be abolished and perhaps all government funding should be refused.

What should matter is whether the gift compromises the charity. Blair's gift, which has been widely reported as being worth at least £4m, came with no strings attached. The legion was clear that accepting the donation was no endorsement of Blair's decisions in office, and the former Prime Minister was equally adamant that he made the right decision on Iraq.

In contrast, the 2009 donation made by the BNP to the legion, which was accepted and then rejected, could have compromised the charity because the party sought to make political capital out of its gift.

Blair's donation won't change anyone's view of him, so it's sad that a small number of supporters of the legion have abandoned the charity as a result.

Yes there must be transparency and debate, but it is the intent behind donations that matters, not whether people like or dislike a particular donor. Those who give to charity are rarely saints and we shouldn't expect them to be.

Tristan Donovan, deputy editor.

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