Ron Simpson: Quick – someone warn the Queen about patronage

Opinion.
Opinion.

As readers of this column will be aware I have from time to time explored national issues that have local significance or implications.

This week I thought it appropriate to draw readers’ attention to an imminent legal challenge by a national membership organisation that, if successful, would have major implications for many significant figures in the county and perhaps some 50 members of the Royal Family. The issue at the heart of the matter is the role and legal liabilities of a ‘Patron’.

The word Patron derives from the Latin ‘patronus’ which means protector of clients or defender. The 2013 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus interprets the modern role of a Patron as ‘a person who supports or champions an activity, cause or institution’. Harper Collins Thesaurus of the English Language describes the role as ‘supporter, friend, champion, defender, guardian angel, advocate, helper and protector’. The online Free Dictionary states a Patron is ‘One who supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause.

Famous Ornithologist Bill Oddie, one-time Goodie and an all-round entertainer, some time ago claimed in the media that Patrons “don’t do anything”. News reports at the time suggested he was casting aspersions specifically on the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who had turned down the role of vice-patron of the RSPCA on the grounds that he was too busy. The suspicion was that Archbishop Welby was concerned the animal charity had become too political, but decided to take the diplomatic route and cite other commitments instead. Note that a Patron is very different from a Trustee, the latter normally having decision making powers and specific accountabilities under the law. Probably without intent, Oddie had highlighted the ambiguity of the role in society played by the many thousands of patrons up and down the country who believed they were simply doing a little good by lending their name to a cause or organisation. This group includes Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness Prince Phillip and a number of other major and minor Royals. Add to this the many thousands of talented high achieving individuals in the field of sport, culture, business and the sciences who serve as Patrons and one realises that one is talking about a significant number of people. All should be interested in the imminent legal action. Why? Because the legal representatives of those bringing the action are to argue that a Patron is an active part of the decision making of the organisation he or she supports and is legally and financially liable for its actions, even though they do not attend its meetings or participate in its decision making structures.

The legal argument has its roots in a branding dispute following a split between two groups that had previously operated together with mutual benefit. Now, in an acrimonious separation, the larger organisation is demanding ownership of the smaller entity’s physical and virtual assets. The complex argument, soon to be put into the public domain, has all the hallmarks of a David and Goliath struggle. The ‘twist’ that will make the news however is that the Goliath in this case is to argue that as the smaller organisation has a Patron, that person should also be held liable for the organisation’s actions, despite him never having 
attended a meeting of its governing body or participated in its decision making. The debate is likely to send a shiver down the spine of the establishment which has always perceived the role as one of doing good.

So look out Patrons of Rutland. This pending action may have implications for you.

As the arguments unfold I will be commenting on developments in a number of national and local journals. What might have started out as a good turn could become a giant albatross. Who will fight to support the nation’s Patrons? I for one with my pen! Consider the implications.

Someone had better warn the Queen!