A little dusty, one of life's softly spoken charmers
23:28 GMT, 4 December 2012
With what chewing-gum officialdom knots the shoelaces of its masters.
Take a select committee meeting yesterday examining the charities world.
Our witness was William Shawcross, new chairman of the Charity Commission. Mr Shawcross is successor to Dame Suzi Leather. You remember Dame Suzi: Labour’s little Miss Snippety Snoot, one of the shrewd schmoozers of soft socialism’s posh pod.
It took the Tories a while to strap her to the bucket of a catapult, but eventually they managed it and off Suzi ker-jannnnged, despatched to outer space. Cheers from a relieved nation.
William Shawcross, pictured here in 2011 with his Commander of the Royal Victorian Order medal, is the new chairman of the Charity Commission
Her successor, approved by David Cameron, is Mr Shawcross, tall, curly-haired, a little dusty, one of life’s soft-spoken charmers. The Queen recently had him for the weekend at Balmoral. Urbane would be the wrong word for Mr Shawcross. He is more civilised than that, one of life’s comfy country brogues.
He was up yesterday before the Public Administration Select Committee and was asked about ‘chuggers’, those hit-squads of young, shouty charity fundraisers who pounce on shoppers. They have been a menace on our streets for several years. They are like RNLI flag day collectors on crack cocaine.
Charlie Elphicke (Con, Dover) was vexed about chuggers. He said they were ‘out of control’ and feared they could ‘bring on panic attacks’ in vulnerable folk. Should the Charity Commission not police the matter Mr Shawcross replied in a dear-dear-most-unfortunate manner reminiscent of the late actor Alistair Sim.
Vocal: Charlie Elphicke said that chuggers were 'out of control' and feared they could 'bring on panic attacks' in vulnerable folk
He agreed with Mr Elphicke that chuggers were ‘very upsetting, belligerent and persistent’ (he said these words with the softest, most gentlemanly of voices) but felt the way to control them was for people to complain to trustees of charities employing chuggers.
The discussion ranged to and fro for about ten minutes. Chuggers were ‘a blight on the charitable sector’, murmured Mr Shawcross, again the epitome of mildness. He coughed away ‘blight’ like John Gielgud and plainly hated to say anything that smacked of executive despatch.
Another subject was a proposal that charities be allowed to pay their trustees. Stinky idea. It surely has no place in the long tradition of British voluntary service and is clearly a power grab by the ‘third sector’ professionals. Mr Shawcross may have thought so but he would not put it in such terms. His sidekick, the commission’s chief executive Sam Younger, merely said it was a ‘deeply controversial’ proposal. It was as though Mr Shawcross had a brake on his tongue.
Mr Shawcross is a rich man. He is doing this Charity Commission job out of a sense of public service. He is an author, gifted with words. Why not flash the bat Why not tell us what he really thinks Why the caution
For a third time did the cock fail to crow. This happened during a long, exciting discussion about the commission’s record on religious charities.
Some years ago it recognised druidism as a charity with a public benefit.
And yet now it has refused to grant similar recognition to the Plymouth Brethren (reclusive Christians). Mr Elphicke and his Tory colleagues Robert Halfon (Harlow) and Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) were not impressed by this decision.
How come the druids got the green light but the Plymouth Brethren were given the elbow
Mr Halfon attacked hard, saying that he thought the Commission was ‘vindictive’. Mr Cairns, more diplomatic, urged the newly-arrived Mr Shawcross to demand a rethink from his officials.
I may be misreading Mr Shawcross’s body language but I got the impression that he possibly agreed with Messrs Halfon and Cairns.
And yet he ummed and ahhh’d and played things safe. If he disagreed with the MPs, he could (should) have said: ‘What rubbish!’ If he agreed with them, he should have said ‘you’re right, guys’.
Instead we just had an impression of inertia, of a chairman who has been taken hostage by the body politic. It is happening all over Whitehall and one reason the Cameron Government has cut through so little with sensible electors.