Government pick for appointments watchdog questioned over past writings

William Shawcross, who accused Labour of a bullying ‘multicultural’ ideology, commits to diversity

The government’s preferred candidate for the sensitive role of public appointments watchdog has told MPs he would not write “polemical” articles in the post as he was questioned over past writings which accused Labour of a “bullying ‘multicultural’ ideology” and “diluting Britishness” to bolster support.

William Shawcross, who has previously been accused of bias against against non-Conservative and Islamic groups in his former role as chairman of the Charity Commission, also committed himself to furthering diversity of all forms if appointed as the new commissioner for public appointments.

The choice of Shawcross as the potential successor to Peter Riddell in a role overseeing the allocation of senior jobs in more than 300 agencies and quangos across government has sparked concerns among some about cronyism.

The writer was asked to give assurances that “deals are not done around the family dinner table”, given the role of his daughter as a ministerial appointee in the government. Eleanor Shawcross, a former adviser to George Osborne, is also married to a Tory peer.

Her father told the public administration and constitutional affairs committee that he could assure them that he would not be doing such deals: “It will not be a deal done over the soup.”

But he added: “I can’t say that things that I do will never be discussed.”

Shawcross was pressed by the Labour MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, about whether he still held views expressed in a 2010 piece for the National Review, a conservative US magazine, about Labour rule, headlined: “Britain’s humiliation”.

Shawcross said had been “misquoted” about its contents, initially saying that “humiliation” had appeared in the “US headline” before adding that the word was in the article, but he was not referring to multiculturalism.

Russell-Moyle quoted from the piece, which said: “Labour’s bullying ‘multicultural’ ideology has been a catastrophe” and claimed leaked documents suggested “there was a deliberate policy ‘to dilute Britishness’”.

Insisting that he supported multiculturalism, Shawcross said if he were appointed to the role he would not write such “polemical” articles.

Shawcross, who has made controversial comments about Islam, was also asked about the struggling review of the government’s anti-radicalisation programme Prevent, which he is overseeing.

He said he was “very disappointed” by the decisions of some organisations to boycott it, adding: “Most charities did not boycott the review and I have approached the review in a spirit of collaboration and with an open mind.”

On the watchdog’s role in ensuring there was greater diversity in public appointments Shawcross said: “The description of diversity needs to be widened so as to encourage more people from less privileged backgrounds to apply for appointments.”

“We need diversity of view as well as geography,” he said, adding: “I would see myself as a champion of diversity in its broadest sense.”

Shawcross is applying to succeed Riddell, who has voiced fears that the government is overseeing over a new wave of political cronyism in the process for selecting board members of public bodies.


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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