Archive for January, 2010

Hats off to Elizabeth Wilmshurst

I know I will not be the only one to say this, but it needs saying.  And consistent readers of the blog will know the theme.  I was moved by the appearance of Elizabeth Wilmshurst before the Iraq Inquiry today.  How do other public servants work for organisations they know or believe to be acting illegally?  What are the duties of a civil servant in such a situation?

Elizabeth Wilmshurst is the only person we know to have resigned from the civil service over the decision to go to war.  She spoke calmly, weighed her responses, was precise and clear, and her performance today suggests she may well have responded calmly even at the time she resigned under great pressure.  In contrast, Campbell is flippant, Hoon suggests he wasn’t even there…  At last, some integrity.

One question might have been put to her boss, Sir Michael Wood (I must check out when he was knighted).  Why did you not resign from the service of a government you believed to be acting against international law?  What goes through your mind on your way to work the day after hostilities start?

Perhaps that is a harsh question.  But it does puzzle me how neutrality in our public servants can be presented as a virtue when it allows them to be complicit in something they know to be wrong.  Morally flexible, I think, was the expression used in Yes Minister.

Campbell’s defence

Perhaps the only interesting aspect of Alastair Campbell’s evidence was that he would stand by every word in the notorious dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  But that is not the question I would ask.  More pertinent might be to ask whether, and perhaps with hindsight, he regrets removing some of the words that appeared in earlier drafts of the document.  Adding words (like ‘might’ or ‘some sources suggest’) and senetnces (‘Other sources reject…’) would change the meaning.  To stand by every word is just sophistry.