Dame Suzi Leather’s membership of the Labour Party has never been a disqualification for her to be chair of the Charity Commission. But it has created an opening for the piranhas of the Daily Mail and other right wing organs to sink their teeth into her. They have attacked her on a political level, suggesting that she has been put there by the Government to destroy public schools, and on a personal level, for her background and the kind of person she is. Quentin Letts of the Mail, for example, included her in his list of ‘fifty people who wrecked Britain.’ The political attacks were so wide of the mark as to be laughable, while Letts was nastily entertaining in his socially regressive public schoolboy style.
You’d be unwise to go into public life if you didn’t have a thick skin. Dame Suzi has always given the impression that hers is as thick as that of the next public-facing public servant. But one always suspects that, when the pressure is on, there is pain beneath the impervious-seeming carapace of public figures – if you prick us, do we not bleed? In her interview this week with Common Purpose, Dame Suzi all but admits that last year was painful for her. In one sense, this makes her more human, and people will warm to her for that. In another sense, it puts her in more danger: once there is blood in the water, the piranhas might return to the attack.
Dame Suzi has led the commission calmly and sensibly through a controversial and turbulent period and was re-appointed last year for a second three-year term. If the Tories form the next government, it will be interesting to see how they get on with her. If the next appointment comes under their watch, no doubt they will appoint someone they consider sympathetic to their approach – perhaps even a Conservative Party member. Would the Daily Mail give that person a similar kicking to that administered to Dame Suzi? Silly question. And the anti-Tory piranas are a lesser species altogether.