THERE are certain roles in public life where the departure of the person at the top is the only appropriate response to failure or public dissatisfaction. And, though it may seem unfair, there are high-profile positions where serious problems are more likely than not.
Ministerial positions, despite the deplorable tendency of some politicians to comply, are a clear case. The office of Home Secretary is an obvious example where crises and public outcries are a regular occurrence. The Mayor of London is another. But the latest resignation is neither of them, but an office that depends on the support of both.
Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, though still insisting on Thursday morning that she would remain in post, had clearly lost that confidence, and resigned that evening.
There was no single position or event that led to her departure. But when a tally is made of the incidents and issues cited in support of the notion that it was time for her to go, the record is a damning one.
When she was appointed five years ago, she was both the first woman and first openly gay officer to rise to what is usually seen as the top job in UK policing, an achievement that should not be underestimated. But even then there were concerns about her record, since she had been the officer in charge of the operation that led to the disastrous shooting of an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, misidentified as a potential suicide bomber. Yet she was not penalised, but promoted.
The current political rows about “Partygate” and the Met’s belated inquiries raise questions about her inability to read the public mood, and inconsistencies in enforcement (given the zeal with which ordinary members of the public were penalised for quite minor breaches of lockdown). Whatever the potentially dire implications for ministers and civil servants, this would probably not on their own have been a resigning matter for Dame Cressida. But there was no shortage of other, more substantial, deficiencies.
That inconsistency was evident in the treatment of various lockdown-breaching demonstrations; the Black Lives Matter protests and the initial efforts of Insulate Britain went largely unhindered, while the women’s vigil after Sarah Everard’s murder was heavy-handedly – and given that the crime had been committed by a serving officer, contemptuously – policed.
We now know that a misogynistic, abusive culture was widespread at Charing Cross Police Station; few doubt that it is present elsewhere. Whether or not the Met remains “institutionally” racist (as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry concluded) or homophobic, no one denies that it still has far too many problems in those areas. Yet Dame Cressida has done little to undertake root-and-branch reform; indeed, has a reputation for reflexively rallying round her officers.
That might be a virtue in theory; it is catastrophic when the force’s shortcomings are so readily apparent. Dame Cressida’s responsibility, at root, was to Londoners, not her officers. And the most damning criticism of all is that they have seen little improvement in serious crime. Though overall figures have declined, homicide, domestic violence and theft offences have all risen substantially, while more than 10 per cent of reported crime is not recorded by the Met. The surprise ought not to be at Dame Cressida’s departure, but that it has been so long in coming.
THE retweeting of a blatantly party political comment by the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, by the Chief Medical Officer,Sir Gregor Smith, was a bad error of judgment. Since he has now recognised that, no more need be done. But it is not a trivial matter. Civil servants must not align themselves with political positions; they may enact the policies determined by ministers, but they are also expected to present neutral advice.
This is even more important with a dominant and long-standing government; the suspicion that officials are partial, or too cosy with elected politicians, is corrosive to transparency. Even the appearance of support for a particular party – however misplaced – feeds public disengagement and mistrust. It undermines faith in all aspects of the political process.