Labour MPs have been tabling hostile Parliamentary Questions (such as this one from Sheila Gilmore) concerning a Government grant of £120,000 Curzone Education, part of the Curzon Institute. The funding is to pay for 50 lectures on the contribution made by Commonwealth nations to the First World War.
Why the fuss? One member of Curzon’s team is Afzal Amin – who having served in the British Army for 11 years was chosen as the Conservative candidate for Dudley North last year. Educated at a comprehensive school and from the Black Country Afzal won a coveted place at Sandhurst before going on to become Education officer to Princes William and Harry. His last job in the Army was as a counterinsurgency strategist focussing on Afghanistan.
The Curzon Institute is effectively a charity, it is not for profit organisation. Mr Amin assists them in their work but he is not paid for doing so.
Quite properly there are strict procedures in allocating public funds to different bodies. Does the Labour Party have any evidence that those procedures have been broken? They have yet to offer any such evidence.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jonathan Ashworth said:
“It would be a scandal if a Tory Minister has given a Tory candidate a public contract worth thousands of taxpayer pounds without advertising it fairly.”
But this is a grant for a charitable activity not a public procurement contract. Is Mr Ashworth saying that not funding from Government should be made to charities without such a contract? If so the massive bureaucracy would put small charities out of consideration.
It would, for example, have knocked out some of the other First World War commemoration projects – such as The Last Post (£34,000) where 300 communities across the country will research their own local First World War heritage and hold musical recitals in schools, libraries, places of worship and community centres, where they will share stories, local memories and testimony.
Or Remember 100 (£125,000) which will mobilise communities to reflect upon the service, sacrifice and impact on society of the First World War, and in so doing engage collectively on community volunteering, educational and participative activities.
Or the Victoria Cross Commemorative Paving Stones project which will see paving stones laid across the United Kingdom for each serviceman who was awarded a Victoria Cross during the First World War.
Does Mr Ashworth regard the failure to provide a Public Procurement Contract for these projects (which would have effectively scuppered them) as also being a “scandal.”
Alternatively Mr Ashworth may simply be taking a pot shot at the Curzon one as it has a Tory PPC on the team. Yet Mr Amin, I stress, is working unpaid. It is difficulty to see how a conflict of interest arises. Were Mr Ashworth to manage to come up with such rules specially prohibiting funding to charities with Tory PPCs involved would he also apply this to those involved in the Labour Party?
The project is run by Major (Retired) Hugo Clarke a former Scots Guards officer who is employed as Programme Director. Hugo has served for 16 years and saw operational service in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
There could be another explanation for Labour’s odd campaign on this matter. Their political interest is for as many as possible to be ghettoised as minorities. This is a reminder about a shared heritage.
DCLG Minister Stephen Williams, a Lib Dem MP, says the Curzon Institute lectures will be “focusing on the little-known contribution of people from all faiths and all backgrounds, from Canada to the Caribbean, in fighting for the Allied cause and the defence of liberty. Accompanying the lectures, Curzon Education will also be producing educational material covering the contribution made by the Commonwealth during the First World War.”:
To date, Curzon Education has delivered nine lectures across the country, including Birmingham, Bristol, London and Leicester. These lectures have attracted over 1,300 people, from different faiths, schools and community groups.
This grant to Curzon went through the standard civil service vetting and approval processes. What one of representatives of the Curzon Institute does in his spare time was not relevant in the slightest. Mr Amin may be active in Conservative party politics, but I am sure that many parliamentary candidates from other parties have sat and assisted voluntary sector organisations which may have received government funding under previous Administrations.
This worthwhile project will help to make the Government’s First World War centenary fitting, meaningful and relevant. It encourages integration by sharing the message that people of all faiths and all backgrounds can be united in service and bravery.
In fact 23 lectures have now been held.
People of all political parties should commend Mr Amin for his work on this project. Labour’s sniping does them no credit at all.