The two things we know about Joan Edwards is that she was an intensely private person and that she is in the news today for having a Half million estate with no inheritors which she wanted to give to ‘whichever government was in office on the date of my death’
GRASPING POLITICIANS POCKET A SPINSTERS £1/2 MILLION LEGACY‘ The Mail splashed this morning – after the donations appeared in the Electoral Commissions accounts for the last quarter showed that the two coalition parties received £420,000 and the £100,000 a piece – ‘The Tories and Lib Dems stood accused of ‘robbery’ The Mail thundered.
One of Ms Edwards neighbours interviewed today says that he thought her estate went to a local Church. Another pointed out that, having been a Nurse; she thought it would go to a local hospital or the NHS. Yet another suggested giving it to the Political Parties was the last thing she would have wanted.
The Guardian ran a comment piece asking its readers what they thought the money should be spent on. The Mail said it was intended for the State and should go to the Treasury. Michael Crick thought the money could go on a new hospital ward. John Prescott asked what you would do with #joanshalfmillion, some said food banks, some said the NHS, some said Housing, and others wondered if the money couldn’t be used in a better way by the Parties themselves than going into their general finances.
But Ms Edwards was an intensively private person and told none of these people what she wanted to do with her money.
Her executors and her solicitors – the only other people apart from Ms Edwards to have known her intentions at the time she made them, however, say that Ms Edwards unusual instructions where to give it to the governing party of the day, and her executors, after checking with Treasury Solicitors and the Parties, carried out those wishes
At the time of the instructions received from the late Miss Edwards, the solicitor specifically checked with Miss Edwards about the unusual nature of her proposed bequest and it was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death.
It seems the only person who didn’t get to have a say where the money went in the end was Ms Edwards herself.
Sure, the wording of the will is ambiguous ‘whichever government was in office on the date of my death’ could indeed mean HM Government- separate from the governing parties. It could mean the Party making up the Government. You could argue the Government of the day is colloquial for A Conservative Government, A Labour Government or indeed a Coalition – it could have meant Her Majesties Government, as Opposed to His Majesties Government or indeed a Republic. It could have meant the Government of England had she lived to see the dread possible future of a dis-united Kingdom.
The will does not mention the word ‘Party’ nor is it specific in saying the money should go to the Treasury or should be bequeathed to the Nation for the benefit of the nation. It does say ‘whichever government was in office on the date of my death’
The wording is poor, and Davis Wood Solicitors should be looking very sheepish but the Executors and the Solicitors are adamant that the wording and the result, was that the money should go to the Governing Parties.
Provided, and unless, and until, there is a proof that anyone else had an input into this decision which was inappropriate, denied her true wishes or was illegal in some other way, it was the Executors final decision to make, not that of either beneficiary Party, and its not up to anyone to ‘shame’ others into giving things up.
But the Mail had none of that, in language designed to cause moral outrage these ‘grasping politicians’ ‘carved up the money’ of an ‘elderly spinster’ They ‘stole’ this money the Mail assured its readers. Other Journalists branded the parties ‘Callous Bastards’ for accepting the money, others theorised that it must be ‘common sense’ that she wanted it bequeathed to the nation, Labour activists poked that the Coalition Parties should be reported for handling stolen goods.
Polly Toynbee automatically assumed that Ms Edwards, an ex Nurse, must be a Labour Party Supporter, or at the least, a socialist like her. Her ‘true act of generosity’ was ‘sullied by political party interests’ – ‘Carve Joan Edwards’ name in pride – and shame upon the parties who filched her cash’ she announces, as if Polly, and Polly Alone knew her intentions and wishes and that they had been overturned by evil money grabbing politicians.
Politicians, the Mail insisted, – ‘were left struggling to explain how a gift intended for the public good’ ended up with the Parties – because in the Mail’s world no political party can ever do good. They were ‘shamed’ into ‘giving back’ money, which, let’s not forget; her solicitors say she explicitly wanted to go to them.
Not that the Mail bothered to check with the solicitors about it before going to print. This was, after all, an outrage, evidence of a grubby political class and fuel to whip up the mob rather than the rather plausible possibility that this was a last, albeit eccentric, wish, badly phrased in a will.
Of Course, we live in a country cynical about its politics, cynical about people in public life and cynical about what they do. We have a media more interested in generating gossip first than report with accuracy, more invested in scandal than reporting good.
Do I think the money would have been better spent on a hospital? Perhaps; Do I think it is a strange wish? Certainly; but that was never my call to make nor my role to assume the mantel of a deceased person’s autonomy nor was it the beneficiaries, or the pundits, or people on twitter, or Labour MPs and Peers.
It was Joan Edwards’ decision to make and her executers duty to carry it out.
Ms Edwards was a private person, her last will and testament was raked over publicly in a way I suspect she would have found deeply troubling, her private request used as click bait, her memory abused by the opposition for political capital and her last wishes, it seems, denied.
It’s not just the Political Parties which are poorer for it.