LEADING ARTICLE:Winners don't buy tickets

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The Independent Online
Some people are mugs - and some most certainly are not. First there was the man who walked into a Tyneside newsagent's this week to buy lottery scratchcards. Probably a shiftworker from the Nissan car plant, he bought £500 worth of cards - and walked out after two hours of scratching, penniless. "I tried to tell him that he probably wouldn't win a biggy," said the shopkeeper, "but he wasn't having any of it. He must have been really fed up." The anonymous man was a mug.

Then there was the Conservative MP whose grandfather was a famous prime minister and war leader. Yesterday, he emerged as a principal beneficiary of the £12m of lottery money that is to be paid for his eminent ancestor's papers. Winston Churchill junior is no mug.

This startling redistribution of wealth from ordinary working people to leading Conservatives is not what most folk expected to happen to money from the lottery. Even if they themselves did not win, they thought that Oxfam, cancer research and Great Ormond Street hospital would benefit from their flutter. Now they know better. So what is going on?

The purchase of the Churchill papers was among the first grants to be handed out by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which exists to fund projects important to preserving the country's history. Now the papers can be catalogued and displayed properly. The fund's other big grant was one of £10m to buy and maintain Mar Lodge, on behalf of the National Trust of Scotland.

These are worthwhile causes, but they suggest a certain cultural confinement in the priorities of the trustees. It raises the question whether projects like this should not be funded by other means, for example by nationwide appeal or bequest, as is so much of the National Trust's work. That would have left more lottery money available for causes closer to the hearts of those who buy most tickets and cards.

Whatever you think about the fund's priorities, however, at least it has secured the future of documents which might otherwise have been sold piecemeal to foreign buyers. That raises a second question: whether the Churchill family has behaved as it ought to have in this affair.

True, they are not all rich and the papers represent their main asset, held in trust for the male descendants. But they are not poor either, nor are they forced by the terms of the trust to seek the highest bidder. Yet they have spent two years haggling about the price they wanted for the papers, dropping hints that they would be prepared to sell privately.

It is this which offends. As an MP, Winston Churchill junior has seldom been backward in exhorting the rest of us to make sacrifices for our nation. Yet now the nation has had to fork out a fortune to him and his family, simply to be able to keep the correspondence, speeches and jottings of our great wartime leader. So this week he won the lottery without even buying a ticket. He is no mug.