Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): Why Kelly should go

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why Kelly should go

Ruth Kelly should resign - but it should not be the end of her political career.

I was irritated by the right-on whining of much of the panel on Question Time on the BBC last Thursday when the question arose of the Government authorising known child sex offenders to work in schools. There was much wringing of hands from many about responding to a "tabloid agenda". Now, often I could have some sympathy with a concern that the newspapers decide to have it in for someone, or that they drum up a story out of a very little and use it to hound Ministers they don't like and that this has a negative impact on our public life.

Where I have less sympathy is here and with the logic underpinning their response to their perception this is happening in this instance.

The reason Kelly should resign is not because this is a scandal greater than any which has gone before it - which does seem to be the reason with which many are trying to justify baying for her blood - but because she has stated several times to the Commons that she is responsible for her department. Her department have made mistakes and failed in instituting policy. The Secretary of State should bear responsibility for this failure and resign - albeit without being permanently and irredeemably discredited.

This view seems anathema to many though. Indeed one of the "learned" panelists on Thursday even questioned what would be served by her resignation. This is what really set my blood boiling since I believe a lot would be served.

If as a Secretary of State you know you will be held responsible for the failings of your department and those who serve in it - by which I mean truly, personally responsible, not just responsible for fobbing off Parliament for half an hour - your mind will automatically be more focussed on the efficacy, sense and value of the way your department or ministry is being run. The very process of being made to account, rather than just mouthing platitudes about accountability, makes one take the power being exercised that much more seriously. If you know you will be forced by convention to lose your job if you don't instigate within 18 months the measures you promise to instigate to prevent perverts working in schools maybe, just maybe, you might be more likely to make sure it happens, to focus your mind on the result.

What's more the lack of any real responsibility also plays a role in undermining legitimacy of public institutions. If there is no democratic representative who is really responsible for the operations of a department; if it can be fobbed off onto some lowly head behind a desk; if "there's nothing which could be done without knowledge of weaker procedures than we might desire" by the Secretary of State, then on what basis do these bureaucratic beasts preside and rule over our lives? What legitimacy do they have to take and spend our money? We are instead effectively told that these bodies exist because they do, always have and will in the future. This is surely unsustainable.

So Kelly should go. She says she is responsible for her department and should be held to account. Her department said policies should be put in place to prevent people such as this working in schools ages ago. Her department failed. She is responsible. She should go, as other Ministers should have for lesser misdemeanours. The only surprise for me in this is that, when Ministers are so irresponsible and unaccountable, we are so surprised that adminstrative bungling keeps on growing.


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