Insight from the top on ministerial responsibility
According to the BBC:
"Dominic Cummings has published expletive-laden messages apparently from Boris Johnson, in which the PM brands the health secretary "hopeless".
It is the latest salvo in a bitter war of words between Mr Cummings and Matt Hancock over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Downing Street did not deny the authenticity of the messages.
But the PM's official spokesman insisted Mr Johnson has full confidence in the health secretary.
"Our focus is not examining those specific images but delivering on the public's priorities," added the spokesman."
This raises yet more questions about the doctrine of ministerial responsibility.
A bit of a reminder 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.
So, we now have a situation where there is strong evidence that the PM himself didn't even have faith in the person in charge of the government department that was principally responsible for handling the covid pandemic.
And I love this little clip. From it can we infer that the minister himself has doubts over his own ability!?