Archive for January 26th, 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.