Ian Allsop reviews the political bunfight surrounding the appointment of the Charity Commission’s new chair.
It probably comes as no surprise for you to learn that I fall on the left-hand side of the political fence. This leads some people to mistakenly conclude that I must support the labour party (have they not actually observed the labour party in the last 15 years?).
So anything I write attacking the government must be politically motivated and regarded with caution. I also declare that I am outspoken and so may not be appropriate to take charge of a column.
The reason I mention this is because of the fuss surrounding the recent appointment of the Charity Commission’s new chair, William Shawcross. Cross being exactly what it made some of the MPs on the Public administration Select Committee (PaSC) assessing his suitability for this key role.
Apparently the man is also a journalist and has independent thoughts and views and political opinions, and isn’t afraid to share them. Outrageous. of course anyone in a high-profile public regulatory and monitoring role has to ensure their personal values don’t cloud the organisation’s impartiality, in much the same way some members of the PASC have admirably done in this case.
Personally, I am more concerned that some of his political opinions (he supports Murdoch, guantanamo bay and the decision to invade iraq) may display a deficiency in judgement, rather than the fact that he has the ability to eloquently express them. Communication of tricky arguments should be seen as a plus-point when it comes to him sitting in the Commission’s hot seat.
For example, one important perception Shawcross has pledged to tackle is that of the Charity Commission being anti-Christian (you may have noticed that it is only ever Christian places of worship and alleged terrorists it investigates). I think appointing a chair whose surname contains the main symbol of the Christian faith is a good start – which is presumably why fellow journalist Michael Buerka didn’t get the post – as long as the EU doesn’t ban him from wearing a name badge in his place of work.
There are also worries because, when he isn’t chairing the Commission for two days a week, Shawcross will continue his work as a journalist, thus possibly creating a conflict of interest. Again, a group of MPs are the perfect arbiters of this, and it is comforting to know that none of them have ever had second jobs or inappropriate non–exec roles.
As long as Shawcross isn’t overseeing sensitive inquiries on Tuesday and then dishing the dirt on Wednesday it is a situation that can easily be managed.
I suspect there was some twitchiness over Shawcross’ supposed political ‘gobbiness’ because of the way his predecessor, Dame Suzi Leather, got tarred as a ‘new Labour robot’ sent in to destroy posh boarding schools, at least if you believe Quentin Letts, which you never should.
Dame Suzi herself never made any public statements of political support; the fuss was all created by others. Which makes it smart that the PASC MPs have presented Shawcross’ political persona to a far-wider audience than would otherwise have been aware of it, thus exacerbating the potential problem they claim to be seeking to halt.
If Shawcross does become too outspoken I am sure there will be plenty of outspoken sector critics ready to speak out and criticise his outspokenness, outspokenly. But for now, I merely point out his Eton and Oxford background, and ask that we let him get on with the job. After all, such pedigree from someone in a position of power has never led to problems in the past.
What the whole process underlines is how politicians can look ridiculous when being politically outspoken, as they criticise others for the same.
Take the MPs who questioned Save the Children’s recent campaign on child poverty in the UK. How dare a charity working to improve the life of poor children around the world highlight issues affecting poor children.
But this was embarrassing for those elected to deal with the issue, and so they accused those pointing it out of doing it for party-political purposes. That Save the Children’s CEO once worked for a labour government means he is obviously twisting things for his own political reasons.
If improving the lives of people (and not just your own) can’t be political then what is the point? Maybe this is where the politicians themselves are going wrong. But don’t believe what I have written here – I may have my own political motivation.