When should a politician resign?

When should a politician resign? What is the bar for a politician to resign from Ministerial or public office?

Firstly the trend in regard to leaders and major referendums is the most clear cut. Alex Salmond lost the Scottish Independence Referendum, he resigned as First Minister. David Cameron lost the EU Referendum, he resigned as Prime Minister. Matteo Renzi lost his referendum on  constitutional reform and he resigned as Italian PM.

We haven’t had a referendum specific to the north for a while. The south on the other hand love a good referendum – without the Taoiseach ever having the good grace to step down when the government loses of course.

Anything sexual tends to be career ending or at the very least damaging. Keith Vaz stood down as Chairperson of the Home Affairs Committee at Westminster after claims that he paid for the services of two male sex workers.

Competence in office is a much greyer area. Is a Minister accountable for everything that happens in his/her department or just high level policy matters? Where is the line drawn?

In Japan during the early 2000s a string of Prime Ministers resigned due to unpopularity. No such rules apply here. The tendency being to ‘ride out the storm’ and wait for another scandal to come along to distract the wrath of the public and the watchful eye of the journo-hawks.

In the same way that some ask ‘who polices the police’ we should ask who holds Ministers to account for their oversight of public funding. These are high level positions that pay handsomely. Is accountability simply an appearance at a Committee, the Minister takes their oil if necessary, and then we all move on?

Geir Haarde was the first politician in Iceland’s history to stand trial for negligence in office at a court which was created to hear charges brought against ministers.

If we had an independent process in place that held Ministers to account for their management of public monies in highly exceptional circumstances such as this would that really be such a bad thing? The Icelandic model is not perfect but the principle is a sound one.

The frustration that the public are expressing now is due to lack of accountability. Politicians hold politicians to account (and sometimes they do an excellent job) but surely there needs to be greater deterrents in place to bring a degree of sobriety to ministerial office?

I am not going to go over the RHI issue and Arlene Foster in this post but there should be a debate about what deterrents we put in place to avoid another half a billion blooper in the future.

We used to call the DETI (Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment) portfolio the ‘Ministry of Photographs’ because all the public ever seen was pictures of the Minister opening businesses and doing visits. Perhaps a more accountable oversight mechanism for Ministers would see them spend less time smiling and a bit more time at the office desk?

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