Editorial: A measured man at the regulator

The Charity Commission's new chair, William Shawcross, is most animated when talking about threats to the independence of charities, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

In a recent polemic in The Daily Telegraph, the right-wing journalist Fraser Nelson comes close to asserting that the recent appointment of the writer William Shawcross as chair of the Charity Commission was deliberately political. Nelson points out that No 10 Downing Street is now vetting public appointments, and cites Shawcross as "a declaration of intent."

This is probably not the kind of media attention Shawcross would have chosen as he settles into the job and comes to the end of his first month at the commission, and in his interview with Third Sector, he prefers not to be drawn on the subject and moves on as quickly as possible.

Shawcross certainly cuts an establishment figure. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, like many in the government, and you don't get to be the official biographer of the Queen Mother by being a flaming republican. In the more closed type of mind, that will be the end of him.

In an article seized on by Labour and LibDem MPs, he said that voting Conservative at the last election was the only way to bring the country "back from the abyss." But he doesn't come across as someone who is political, in the sense of being dedicated to a party line through thick and thin.

Rather, his style is rational and measured; he likes to use words carefully, he's reluctant to pronounce if he feels under-informed and he's as inclined to ask questions as to answer them. To that extent he is, ironically, quite similar to his predecessor, Dame Suzi Leather, who was reviled by the political right.

Shawcross also shows a strong appreciation of, and interest in, the nature and history of the country's charitable tradition. And he's most animated, in his interview, when talking about the potential threats to its independence, not least from governments.

He's also tuned in to the noise from some Conservative backbenchers about charities doing too much campaigning - the fount of Nelson's agitation. Shawcross accepts it's a controversy that won't go away and suggests a public debate about it, which is not a bad idea.

- Read our interview with William Shawcross

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