Controversial Prevent reviewer named as pick for next public appointments commissioner

Gove lines up writer and former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross for watchdog role
William Shawcross. Photo: PA

By Jim Dunton

20 Jul 2021

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has named author and former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross as the government’s preferred candidate to be the next commissioner for public appointments.

Shawcross will succeed current commissioner Peter Riddell from October, subject to a pre-appointment session before members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

He is currently undertaking a review of the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism programme, an appointment that proved controversial among some commentators in light of his previously expressed views on Islam.

Gove said Shawcross had a “vast experience and history of public service” and had been selected for his new role following a fair and open recruitment process.

“He has all the attributes and experience needed for this important regulatory role that is vital to ensuring confidence in the public appointments made by both the UK and Welsh Governments,” Gove said.

“I would like to thank Peter Riddell for his service as commissioner for public appointments and, once again, for agreeing to extend his tenure for a short period.

“Following a pre-appointment hearing, PACAC will publish their recommendations, which the government will consider before deciding whether to finalise the appointment.”

The recruitment process to find the next public appointments commissioner launched in November last year, and the government's failure to name its preferred candidate had been a source of concern to members of Pacac.

In April, Riddell agreed to extend his five-year term in office until the end of September to allow for what Gove described as a “proper handover period” with his successor. The Cabinet Office miniser told PACAC chair William Wragg at the time that the recruitmemnt process was “close to conclusion”.

Shawcross was chair of the Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018. In 2019 he became the special representative on UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism.

His previous roles have included membership of the UN High Commission for Refugees Informal Advisory Panel and the Council of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Shawcross has also been a director of the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative think-tank that has been accused of stoking Islamophobia.

In 2012, while director of HJS, he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”

One of his most famous books is 1979’s Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, which looked at the US government’s secret bombing of the south-east Asian nation.

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