Should he resign?

I've posted quite a few entries in recent months about ministerial responsibility with regards to the current government.

October 2020:

January 2021:

January (again) 2021:

And this Conservative government consists of ministers who just keep on giving. This week it is the turn of the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. The story, of course, is that after his actions being declared 'unlawful' this week by the courts

there are now serious questions about the existence of a 'chumocracy' in the awarding of government contracts. Although stopping short of declaring the minister as being guilty of criminality, there are questions about whether Hancock is fit for office.

A bit of background on what individual ministerial responsibility entails

  • A feature of parliamentary government is that the executive is drawn from the legislature and according to the constitution is directly answerable to it. The ministerial 'highway code' is laid out in the ministerial code of conduct, which is issued to all ministers.
  • A personal mistake is by far the most common reason for ministers to resign, but some ministers weather the media storm better than others. In the 1990s it seemed like the Tories had set up a ministerial resignation production line (Mellor, Mates, Yeo, Brown, Hughes, Aitken), but after New Labour took office it quickly became apparent that being whiter than white was a promise that would be difficult to fulfil. In 1998 the Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, resigned after a ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common. Under the Con-Lib coalition, Treasury Minister David Laws was first to fall on his sword following revelations about claiming housing expenses while sharing a house with his male partner.
  • It is very rare for a minister to resign as a result of an error of policy or administration, but we can point to the resignation of Estelle Morris over the A levels fiasco in 2002 as a precedent in the context of events in the Education Department (see previous blog posting in October 2020) over the past year.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has said he does not think Hancock should walk the plank, but his predecessor as leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, has done.

And today, results of an opinion poll are evenly split, with 36% thinking he should and 37% against.

It's not the place of this writer to say whether an individual minister should resign, but it does once again show that the doctrine of minisiterial responsibility is open to wide interpretation.

By the way, on a related note, if you like politicians arguing with Piers Morgan, have a look at the video.

Piers Morgan fails to get an apology from the Health Secretary


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