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.

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1 Response to “Hats off to Elizabeth Wilmshurst”


  1. 1 Christina January 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks for writing this. Struck me today, whilst listening to Tony Blair’s evidence, that whilst his performance made you want to think him totally and solely responsible, how many people had to collude at least by being publicly silent in order to transform his personal conviction into an illegal invasion. The important thing for him, it seemed, was what he believed rather than the ethics of the process he undertook to get there. Reinforces the need for civil and public servants to stand their ground when they know that carrying out the political will of the elite is neither legal nor democratic.


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