Fayed funds new political crusade

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The Independent Online
Mohamed al-Fayed, the millionaire owner of Harrods, is funding a new political organisation to promote the crusade against the "culture of violence" launched last year by Frances Lawrence, widow of the murdered headteacher.

The new body, provisionally called The People's Trust, plans to write to all candidates in the general election in order to identify a group of MPs in the new parliament who put "their consciences, their constituents and their country at the heart of their politics, rather than their party", according to Christopher Graffius, organiser of the initiative.

The trust is Mr Fayed's third venture into politics recently, following his backing for anti-abortion candidates and for the Christian Democrat, the newspaper of the Movement for Christian Democracy, which is also "pro- life" and campaigns vigorously against screen violence. Mr Graffius was general secretary of the Movement for Christian Democracy until the start of this month, when he also left his job as assistant to David Alton, the "pro-life" Liberal Democrat MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill, whose seat is to disappear at the election. But Mr Graffius told The Independent the trust would not be specifically Christian, and would be nothing to do with "right-wing moral majority" politics.

"It will have no faith foundation, although the agenda will appeal to people of all faiths and none," he said. It would make sense to many "inspired by the Judaeo-Christian ethic", but equally to those inspired by Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist teaching. Mr Fayed is a Muslim, strongly opposed to abortion and keen to support an "ethical" dimension in British politics.

Mr Graffius said he had been in touch with Mrs Lawrence, whose husband, Philip, was stabbed by 16-year-old Learco Chindamo when he intervened to defend one of his pupils outside his school in west London. "She has told us that she will support what we are doing, and has said she is happy to write for The People's Trust, but will hold no official position," he said.

Mrs Lawrence published a manifesto last October which galvanised public opinion and forced politicians to follow her lead, he said. "And yet nothing much has happened since then. But if there had been a group of politicians in parliament, properly supported, much could have been done." Mr Graffius said the trust would pursue the issues of screen violence, bans on handguns and combat knives, education and unemployment.

It had two other interests: political honesty and constitutional reform. It would demand a full declaration of candidates' financial interests before the election on the same basis that MPs will be required to make afterwards. The trust would also promote proportional representation as "the dynamo which will change our existing party system".

He said that Mr Fayed, the Egyptian-born tycoon who has clashed with the government over his application for British citizenship, had provided pump-priming funding and temporary offices for the trust, but it was intended to become a membership-based organisation.

It is believed that Mr Graffius's plans provoked unease among members of the Movement for Christian Democracy when they were discussed at a secret meeting last weekend. Yesterday, David Cairns, of the Christian Socialist Movement, said the body was in danger of sinking into the politics of the "Christian ghetto". He said: "Mr Fayed is making sure it's a very plush ghetto, but it is one nonetheless."