Most political commentators consider the job of Home Secretary to be the one of the toughest in government.
I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Home Secretary, so I know first-hand this is certainly true. The sheer amount of papers, emails, briefings, conversations, decisions, opinions, actions, and yes, targets that cross the desk of any minister, not just that of a Home Secretary, is bewildering.
Can any human actually cope with that amount of information and know all about every decision right or wrong?
Recent events make this a pertinent question but Amber Rudd’s resignation although sad is not unusual, especially in the Home Office. During the 13 years of the last Labour government, for example, there were six Home Secretaries and not all left with their reputations fully intact.
True, ministers are helped by advisors and civil servants, but the responsibility stops at the door of the one in charge.
This particular tenet of government has a name and a long history. Ministerial Responsibility is a constitutional convention where ministers are responsible to Parliament for the conduct of their ministry and therefore government as a whole.
It is something that started its evolution back in the 17th century to curb the power of Charles I and is central to our parliamentary system, because it ensures accountability.
One might also say it doesn’t allow anyone to make a mistake and learn from it while staying in the job and putting right what went wrong. Those who make the mistake are sometimes best placed to put it right particularly, as in the case of Amber Rudd, there was no deliberate attempt to mislead anyone.
On the other hand, some critics feel that ministers do not take Ministerial Responsibility seriously these days, and don’t fall on their swords often enough when they make serious errors on important issues that affect people’s lives.
The history of every government in every country since records began will tell you some people aren’t up to the job of governing when others prosper, if given time, so there is clearly merit in both arguments.
But aren’t we in danger here of making it impossible for anyone to live up to the expectations of doing what is considered “a good job” if we are so keen to seek the resignation of those in public life who make mistakes?
Now, I know politics is a brutal business and no quarter is given by any party to another. Everyone knows the rules and plenty are willing to play by them.
However, putting the general desire to take part aside for a moment, do we do run the risk of the most able in our country thinking that it’s simply too much trouble and the environment just too brutal to enter public life so they take their talents elsewhere?
This is no plea for politicians to receive special treatment or not to be held to account – they very much need to be, just like many others in society. I simply think there should be a debate on just how we can be effectively governed when the world is now so complex, so fast paced and so quick to judge when something fails. To not think about it could be detrimental to our country.