Sunday, November 30, 2008

Honourable Politician Resigns

(Just noticed that I didn't publish this post from last week!)

Yep, you don't see that very often but it has just happened in India.

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil and national security adviser MK Narayanan have submitted their resignations in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.
I don't believe for one minute that either of these gentlemen did anything directly or through omission that led to the terror attacks in Mumbai* but they have shown that they understand that the buck stops at the top. The last of our politicians to resign on this principle was Lord Carrington who was Foreign office Secretary at the time of the Falklands invasion, if I remember correctly.

I'll bet our current bunch of snivelling politicians, of either party, would be desperate to hold their jobs and deflect responsibility on to anyone they could find. They would claim that it wasn't their fault as they don't have day to day control of any situation. Their duty, they claim, is to set policy and strategy, and not to be involved in the day to day tactics. They would will claim that they can't be held responsible for how these are implemented and for the consequences of any errors made on the front line.

What they don't understand is that policy and strategy lead directly to the way those on the front line act and behave when carrying out their jobs. Lord Carrington understood this very well. He knew that it was his policies and strategy that led to the Foreign Office downgrading the Falklands in their priorities. He knew the consewuences of this downgrading led to those who had an idea what could happen not being given the resources or the hearing they would get if the Falklands had been a priority. Even if they did raise the issue their bosses would be too interested in subjects that were a priority.

Lets look at a hypothetical situation that could be brewing at home. When a single prisoner escapes from jail it is reasonable that the Home Secretary shouldn't be held responsible and resign. However it is well known that our jails are overcrowded and that Labour has made increasing jail terms and harsher sentences a key policy to placate the Daily Mail voter. They have also ducked the decision to build more prisons despite dire warnings.

What if this overcrowding led to mass riots and a breakout of all the prisoners from a maximum security jail? Would the Home Secretary resign or not? I don't know, its hypothetical, but I would put money on it they wouldn't. They would claim that they can't be expected to personally supervise all the prisons, that's why we have Governors. What they willing and deliberately fail to accept is that their policies and strategies led to the the problems in the first place. They will rely on the political process that dictates that by the time any report comes out the Home Secretary will have moved on and a new incumbent will be in place. We will be told that lessons will be learnt ..... you get the drift.

We will have spent months, if not years, arguing over culpability until the report comes out, only to be told what we knew. We will then hold our politicians, all of them, in even more contempt, but nothing will change.

This is why I respect India's Home Minister and thought it was an honourable thing to do. He knows that, like it or not, he has set the environment in which India's security services work. It might be that subsequent reports find nothing reasonable could have been done to stop the attacks, but that's not the point, the public have been let down and someone must go. His resignation, even if not accepted, will allow the debate to move to what happened, why and how it could have been avoided, without it being dragged in to low politics as opposition and sections of their media demand resignations and other politicans waste time and political capital defending them.

*This is one story where I do have a bit of personal interst, I stayed in the Oberoi and know it well. Like everyone who travels on business I live in dread of something like this happening.

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