There was a time when public figures caught misbehaving, or having failed in their appointed mission, felt obliged to resign, promptly and quietly, in the public interest, and as a matter of personal honour. At least, I seem to remember that is what usually happened. Mind you, I may be mistaken.
I’m thinking, as I wrote this, of John Profumo, who famously stepped down from his post as war minister in the Macmillan government after he had been caught lying to the House of Commons about his affair with call-girl Christine Keeler. Perhaps Profumo was one of those exceptions that prove the rule. Perhaps top people have always clung to office, hoping that the scandal in which they have become embroiled will blow over once the media and public had become bored. I don’t suppose there are statistics to prove it one way or the other.
And now that I recall the incident, even Mr. Profumo, who spent the rest of his life restoring his integrity by working virtually unnoticed for an East End charity, had tried to wriggle off the hook on which he had become impaled. Why else otherwise would he have bothered to lie to the House?
As I write, two public figures stand on the same brink, staring into an abyss of imposed – or self-imposed – anonymity.
The more prominent of the two is Liam Fox, the defence secretary, who appears to have allowed a close friend, Adam Werrity, to accompany him on dozens of official overseas visit as an ‘adviser’. Mr. Werrity, who was best man at Mr. Fox’s wedding, even had a business card proclaiming his status. The card was the only evidence of legitimacy. The trips seem to have been funded by shadowy companies in the defence industry.
Whether Mr. Werrity was taken along for the purpose of making commercial contacts or for other reasons about which we can only speculate (the Daily Telegraph saw fit to mention yesterday that Mr. Fox’s sexuality had been the subject of speculation for some time) presumably time will tell. But the fact is that facilitating Mr. Werrity’s access to high-level political and industry contacts was at best cynical and improper and at worst a security risk. The defence secretary may be as competent as his colleagues assert, but isn’t judgement a key component of competence? He should resign immediately.
So, for entirely different reasons and in quite different circumstances, should Marin Johnson, manager of the England rugby team. Mr. Johnson may not have been the disaster that some claim he was, but he has just presided over an undistinguished period in the team’s fortunes, and has just brought his squad home early from the World Cup tournament in New Zealand in a state of disgrace for exploits on and off the field.
His contract is up in December anyway, so the question is not whether he should suffer the ignominy of being fired, or even whether he should resign, but whether he should consider applying for another term. Of course he shouldn’t. He’s likely to suffer the indignity of failing to get the job. Besides, he’s had his turn in charge, in which he failed to create a standard of playing excellence, and apparently failed to impose the discipline that is the second prerequisite for success.
To avoid the embarrassment of a rejected application why doesn’t he preemptively, and with the dignity to which he is entitled, announce that he will not be a candidate?
Two for the road, I say.