Monday, October 31, 2005

The technicalities are circling

David Blunkett’s critics accuse him of failing to declare a directorship with a DNA testing company to the standards watchdog within two years of leaving ministerial office. Contacting the standards watchdog was not compulsory, only advised. He did not hold the directorship whilst he was a minister. Indeed he resigned the post as soon as he was reappointed to the cabinet. On present evidence David Blunkett is guilty at most of a minor technicality. His opponents delight in tripping him up with an insignificant speck, because they sense he is vulnerable to pressure. Let’s hope that they remembered to check their own eyes first.

Public accountability and transparency of our leaders is to be welcomed, but as David Blunkett’s experience demonstrates technicalities in relation to dishonest gain carry disproportionate weight. We demand resignation for minor infringements in this area partly because there is no agreement on what other behaviour we expected from a minister.

The following questions are a suggestion of what criteria we should be using to judge ministerial conduct. They do not touch on the substance of the decisions made, which are rightly left to political argument.

1) Does the minister make decisions which s/he considers in the long term interest of the country even when these conflict with short term self-interest or political expediency?
2) Does the minister speak with integrity in public? Is the minister prepared to accept responsibility for mistakes as well as successes?
3) Does the minister promote good governance by making every effort to work with ministerial colleagues and overcome personality differences?
4) Does the minister lead his/her department in order that it is managed efficiently, develops a culture of honesty and integrity and seeks to bring out the best in its staff?
5) Does the minister ensure on a continuing basis that s/he listens and responds to a genuine cross section of informed and honest opinion and not become beholden to any one interest?
6) Has the minister used his/her office for dishonest gain?

Was David Blunkett’s misuse of his office to fast track the visa application of Ms Quinn’s nanny sufficiently serious, in the context of the other criteria that he should have been forced to resign?

If there are any ministers who could consistently answer yes to questions one and two it would be surprising although I’m sure that some could answer yes to three to five. However, because there is never discussion about these areas of a minister’s character, integrity and performance we simply don’t know. If we are to avoid the ludicrous scenes surrounding David Blunkett of the last forty-eight hours it’s about time we found out.

No comments:

Post a Comment