When did resignation stop being honourable?


A few words of Biography: Alistair Carmichael is the liberal MP for Orkney and the Shetland Isles. He is my godmother’s MP. He is in fact, following the resignation of Nick Clegg, the effective leader of the parliamentary Liberal party. This makes the revelations this weekend that he was personally behind the leak that claimed Nicola Sturgeon had an interest in seeing David Cameron remain in power, particularly destructive.


This is what was reported:

The leak suggested the Scottish first minister wanted David Cameron to remain as prime minister.

Mr Carmichael said it was an error of judgement and he accepted “the details of the account are not correct”.

Ms Sturgeon said it had been a “blatant election dirty trick”.

The confidential memo was published by the Daily Telegraph on 3 April as the general election campaign got under way.

It was written by a civil servant in the Scotland Office and claimed Ms Sturgeon told the French Ambassador to the UK, Sylvie Bermann, that she would prefer Mr Cameron, the leader of the Conservatives, to remain as prime minister.

An apology needs to be more than a letter of admission

My own opinion is that this leak not only did damage to the political process but also seriously undermined our diplomatic image. Mr Carmichael might feel the political initiative was worth it, but the damage to our international reputation is appalling and for that damage alone, he should resign immediately. Reading further, we discover that the official inquiry identified Eaun Roddin as the actual leaker. It is perhaps, therefore, a small credit to Carmichael that he is standing up for a former colleague who, we learn leaked with “his permission” Carmichael says he was “aware of its content and agreed that my special adviser should make it public”.


I am not sure when politicians began to think it was better to cling on to power than to resign? Recently, I seem to have been drumming on about resignation. Indeed, I did it myself and thought that I might lead by example. People told me I was a fool, and indeed, rather than being treated with respect, I was savaged as was my family.

The new rules of political resignation were written by UKIP during the recent election.

Another agendum

I understand entirely why Mr Coburn felt it unnecessary to resign too, because as far as he was concerned, he was doing exactly what he had been told to do. He was at the beck and call of Mr Farage, and was not directly beholden to his electorate or to the people of Scotland. If Mr Farage did not feel he had crossed a red line, then he had not. It took some time for this message to filter down to me, but I understand it now. An offence is only a problem if the speaker intends it. It does not really matter what the victim thinks.

caught out

I also understand the terms that made the resignations of Robert Blay and Atkinson became essential: they had both been caught out by undercover reporters. It begs the question whether they might have continued in their respective political careers had they not been caught so publicly. But so be it. Resignation follows being caught out.

fake resignation

Finally, there is the third option, which is the resurrection card played very nicely by Mr Farage. This involves invoking a Christ-like ability to return to the same position voluntarily abandoned barely three days’ earlier. If it is possible to whip the NEC into voting for reinstatement, so much the better, but no doubt the barrage of supportive emails will also do the trick. Why, oh why, did Jeremy Clarkson’s resignation go so wrong, then, because he had probably gathered even more signatures of support than even Mr Farage?

Another example of the fake resignation is the fake ultimatum. In 2013, the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) got caught up in a series of extreme statements, among them support for the murderer Anders Breivik who Mario Borghezio said had “excellent ideas”. Farage wrote to Borghezio demanding he withdraw the statement or UKIP would pull out of the EFD. Borghezio did not withdraw his statement. Instead, he spoke at length in the parliament in a torrent of right-wing absurdity thus, “Long live the Whites of Europe, long live our identity, our ethnicity, our race… our blue sky, like the eyes of our women. Blue, in a people who want to stay white.” I don’t think he was being satirical. UKIP remained in the EFD and later Nikki Sinclair was later expelled from UKIp, she said, because she did not accept the “extreme views” of EFD. It is all slightly inconsistent, but there we are. We do not really know the rules of this game because new rules are being made on a daily basis. 

In other words, as long as enough noise is made, we can accept any proposition.

Alistair Carmichael

carmichael letter

Now we have a new situation. The victim was offended of course. But that does not matter in the new world order of UKIP resignation. Though here, the culprit has admitted the offence, and then – the implication goes that – had he not written to Nicola Sturgeon, he might have been exposed anyway in the sunday newspapers as the source of the “leak”. This strongly recommends resignation, but it is certainly not clear-cut on the new principles, and anyway, he is a Liberal and has just about survived the Scottish SNP political sweep.

Of course, he might tender his resignation as a Government minister – but that was done for him by the electorate. He might resign from the Liberal party- but I suspect they might feel obliged to reinstate him simply to keep up their numbers on the political life-support. Should he fall on his sword and cause a by-election, no doubt a waiting SNPer would snap up the seat.

Resignation under the new terms is about political survival. I think it should be about moral principles. Whether we “understand” it or not, the new UKIP approach to political resignation is a hollow mockery of morality.

But lest we forget- Salmond, Clegg, Miliband

The most honourable resignations in recent history have been those of Alex Salmond, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, gentlemen all. All three followed the old procedures. Already, one of these has returned from the political wastelands and claimed his rightful place with his former troops in Westminster, and more than that, he has the dignity to take a back seat.

In short, there is now a choice. Does the Liberal man- caught with his proverbial trousers round his ankles, want to champion the new rules laid out by UKIP or does he want to join the gentlemen and “do the right thing”? Whether SNP or Tory benefits from Alistair Carmichael’s resignation, so be it. The Rubicon was crossed when he penned his letter- let the dice fall where they may. It really is time to tie his colours to the mast. In other words, this goes beyond his own political survival. It is about liberalism. If his party allows him to fly the UKIP flag in this instance and adopt one of the variety of UKIP policies about resignation on offer (all tried and tested), then the liberal party can never again claim to be the party of decency and, whoever is elected new leader should seriously consider setting up talks about an alliance with Farage.


Author: timewilson

animator director and teacher

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