Saturday, January 24, 2004


At the moment Geoff Hoon seems to be employing a strange version of the insanity defence - a sort of stupidity defence. The MoD may be a trainwreck but, says Hoon, what can he do about it ? He only runs the place. There is plenty wrong with this picture but the first thing to be said is that Hoon's argument for not being sacked is, basically, that he had no idea his Ministry had collapsed into chaos - which is not normally taken as a reason for further employment.

That's the thing though. No one suggests Hoon has committed any criminal offence. We're not suggesting he be deprived of his liberty, we suggest he be deprived of a job he lacks any aptitude whatsoever for. Yet, to listen to his Liberal defenders, you'd think sacking Hoon merely for being useless would be the moral equivalent of execution without trial.

Yes, there are serious problems at the MoD - and most of them are attributable simply to Parliament's financial anorexia: the obsessive belief that no matter how thin the 'Thin Red Line' gets, there's always more fat to be cut. No, a Conservative victory would not result in the money spigot being turned on. Yes, even Conservative pin-ups Churchill and Thatcher made some truly awful decisions when dealing with defence issues. But the charge against Hoon is not concerned with matters of policy or simple shortage of resources. The charge is that he has completely mismanaged what the Ministry does have.

Fatty Nick Soames reports that the MoD has managed to lose 200 000 sets of body armour. How do you lose 200 000 of anything ? Meanwhile, Gormless Geoff defence is to claim there were sufficient sets 'in theatre' - a meaningless statement if ever there was one. Similarly, the Hutton enquiry revealed a man seemingly unaware of what even his closest officials are doing. The Government is not short of meaningless non-jobs, window-dressing and pantomime initiatives, but the Ministry of Defence is none of these things. It deals, quite literally, with matters of life and death. If, as Hoon's supporters maintain, he has done nothing that lead to unnecessary deaths then it is also true that he has done nothing to avoid them either. By his own testimony, Hoon is not only a waste of space, but his continued employment prevents a more vigorous and focused individual from taking up the duties which he has consistently failed to discharge.

That's one of the defining marks of this Government. They've tried to turn the Constitution on it's head. Traditionally, politicians have been answerable to Parliament for the actions of their Departments. By such means the political neutrality of the civil service is balanced with the need for accountability. Under Nu Lab though, the civil service has been politicised while Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and shrugged their shoulders, claiming 'Nowt to do with me, mate'. Is it any wonder that one of the characteristics of this Government has been officiadom constantly intruding into the lives of the citizenry while neglecting the very activities they were set up to deal with in the first place ?

It is entirely central to our idea of democratic government that ministers should not be able to evade responsibility by a kind of reversed Nuremberg defence - 'they weren't following orders'. Of course - and here we enter tinfoil territory - it may be quite deliberate. Just as Nu Lab outsourced the manufacture of controversial law to the Courts via inkblot legislation such as the Human Rights Act, allowing politically-motivated civil servants to run riot allows Nu Lab to push its agenda while maintaining plausible deniability. Which makes it all the more important that the Conservative Party keeps hammering away at ministers such as Hoon who have presided over disaster. It is their fault, they are responsible for the actions of their ministry and to maintain anything else is to try and chip away at the very ideals of our democracy.

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