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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Standard Life voting form attacked
fred woollard
Carpetbagger Fred Woollard criticised the documents
The Plain English Campaign has accused insurance giant Standard Life of putting an unfair slant on the contents of its demutualisation voting form.

The voting papers are currently being posted to its 2.3 million members.

This is like voting in a general election and having the ballot paper tell you who to vote for

Chrissie Maher of the Plain English Campaign

Carpetbaggers want the insurer to demutualise and pay windfalls to members, but the company's board is determined to retain mutual status.

The Plain English Campaign said Edinburgh-based Standard Life had used the ballot papers to promote its own point of view.

It also said that the documentation enclosed along with the firms was designed to distract members from the arguments for demutualising the business.

Behaviour 'anti-democratic'

The Plain English Campaign accused Standard Life of being anti-democratic behaviour in the way it set out the postal voting forms.

Chrissie Maher, of the Plain English Campaign, said: "We deplore Standard Life's decision to write 'support the board and vote no to all the resolutions' on the voting form, directly above the space for voting.

"This is like voting in a general election and having the ballot paper tell you who to vote for.

"And while the carpetbaggers get their say in Standard Life's information pack, it is mysteriously the only page in the document printed on a purple background.

"Every study of typography and design shows this is the absolute worst way to present text, if you intend anybody to be able to read it.

"Plain English Campaign isn't arguing either way on the demutualisation issue. But we passionately believe policyholders have a right to make an informed decision.

Australian-born Fred Woollard, the Monaco-based businessman heading the carpetbaggers' drive for demutualisation, said: "There would be an outcry if Tony Blair ordered that all voting forms in the next General Election should carry a 'Vote Labour' slogan.

The documents were approved by the Electoral Reform Services who are doing the vote counting

Standard Life spokeswoman
"I also think that printing our one page argument for demutualisation on a purple background when all the other pages were white or cream does make it more difficult to read, especially for people with relatively weak sight."

A special general meeting will be held in Edinburgh on 27 June, but those intending to vote by post must return their ballot papers by midnight on 22 June.

The build-up to the ballot on 27 June has been characterised by a bitter battle between those who want the status quo and those who are lobbying for change.

A Standard Life spokeswoman said: "The documents were approved by the Electoral Reform Services who are doing the vote counting.

"The document differs from an electoral vote in that it is a defence of the company's position. As such we are entitled to state our position.

"The text provided by Mr Woollard was produced on a different coloured background deliberately to show that this material had a different author."

Good news for insurer

There was some good news for Standard Life in the shape of a Parliamentary 'Early Day' motion supporting the company's case for staying mutual.

It was put forward by Andy Love, chairman of the All Party Building Society Group and backed by 50 other MPs.

Although it has no legal status, the motion was welcomed by the company.

Scott Bell, group managing director of Standard Life, said: "We are grateful for the support Mr Love's group has given us."

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See also:

30 May 00 | Business
Standard Life in final appeal
28 Apr 00 | Business
The standard life of Fred Woollard
21 May 00 | Scotland
Insurer in renewed plc attack
25 Apr 00 | Scotland
Boost for carpetbaggers' hopes
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