Not long ago I posted my opinion that the first thing that happens when the government screws up is usually a lot of public discussion about who should apologize, possibly followed by the apology itself, and then generally followed by discussions of who should resign and outright calls for resignations. Only then do people talk about what can be done to fix the problem. Today’s news brings up an illustration.
Now, first, let me say that I find the news reporting here more palatable than that in the US. There’s less obvious editorializing by all sides, and if there’s an equivalent here of Fox News, employer of Glenn Beck, then I don’t know about it and I hope nobody tells me about it.But BBC radio buzzed all day today with more on the saga of the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, who hired a Tongan cleaning lady without checking properly to see whether this cleaner had the right to work legally in the UK (she didn’t), and without keeping copies of the documents that the law requires an employer to keep. This is doubly embarrassing because not only is Baroness Scotland the highest official here in charge of law and order, but she was personally instrumental in pushing through the law that makes it an offense to do exactly what she just did.
So what happened? She beat the opposition to the punch by apologizing almost before there were calls for an apology. That meant we could skip pretty much directly to the discussions about whether she should resign—with the press asking all kinds of politicians for their opinions on the subject (but why are their opinions on such a matter even considered to be news?), the speculation on who would take her place if she does resign, the calls from the Tories for her resignation, and the statements of support for her from other members of the Labour government.
I don’t ordinarily think the government figures who are guilty of these peccadilloes should immediately resign. For one thing, once you get some able people up to the top of the heap—Baroness Scotland wasn’t born to a title but was made a Baroness in 1997 having already become the youngest-ever Queen’s Counsel and the first black female Queen’s Counsel—if one by one they keep resigning, you keep losing the best people over mistakes like believing the nice Tongan cleaning lady who unfortunately had her fingers crossed when she said she’s got the right visa. For another thing, generally officials who do resign stay out of the public eye for a few months and then get another government position anyway. So okay, Lady Scotland’s mistake is embarrassing for the government, but I wouldn’t have thought an oversight with her domestic staff would be a firing/sacking offense.
Granted, the way she apologized was pretty distasteful. She suggested that “there will not be a woman in the country who is not reaching for that passport and making sure they have a copy. This applies to all the people we employ—Irish, English, Lithuanian.” Not so, because, as the Baroness seems to have forgotten, most of us out here don’t have the wherewithal to hire domestic help.
And it was a masterly non-apology apology. She said that she “did check absolutely everything”—which can’t be right, given that the woman she hired didn’t have the legal status to work here—and that she admitted she was guilty of a “technical breach” of the law. What would a nontechnical breach of the law look like? Seems to me that if you aren’t supposed to hire people who don’t have the right to work and you’re supposed to keep copies of certain documents, and if you then go ahead and hire people who don’t have the right to work and you don’t bother to keep copies of the paperwork, you have breached the law, technically, nontechnically, and any other way for which there exists an adjective. She has broken the law supercalifragilistically, perhaps, because she has broken the law, period/full stop.
I figure she ought to do just what any of the rest of us would do: pay the fine and get on with her job. The outcome of this situation, though, is not massively important to me. But having just posted recently about the accepted sequence of apology -> resignation -> fix, Baroness Scotland’s troubles seem to have come along at an opportune time.
What about step three: fixing the problem? Is anyone calling for a change to the law? Not that I’ve heard.
Now, what else might have happened in the world today? There are climate-change talks, with the Chinese making a statement, and the Lib-Dems (Americans: that’s the Liberal Democrats, the strongest third-party here) are having their convention. The French have closed the so-called “jungle” camp inhabited by would-be immigrants to the UK who aren’t legal. (Wonder if any of them have housekeeping experience? I think we know of a vacancy.)
I did hear the headlines about those stories, but beyond that I wouldn’t know any other news because my radio just carried interminable coverage of Baroness Scotland’s apology and the opinions about whether Baroness Scotland would or should resign, as given by politicians of other parties, who must have been queueing up to get to the microphones.
Okay, I still prefer the BBC to American news, but I do wonder what happened in the world outside Westminster today.