Sat | Aug 19, 2017

When you don't matter anymore, just leave

Published:Wednesday | October 22, 2014 | 10:00 AM

There are many factors influencing the decision of Cabinet ministers who are failing badly in their posts to cling to their jobs like a pickpocket sprinting through a crowd clutching a fat wallet. A resignation represents a serious loss of face for any politician, but is especially so for one sitting at Cabinet level.

That course of action can be emasculating. It can be deflowering. It can represent a person taking away his or her own dignity. A resignation ensures that those who slapped you on the back at public engagements now avoid you out of a need to not share in your embarrassment. The phone calls, after an initial sympathy period, stop coming in. And for many politicians who resign, they return to being nobody special, just another face in the crowd, seething and sulking either from the backbench in the Parliament or from a seat yards away from their television while they watch the House in session.

There are, however, some rare occasions when politician realise they are not good enough for the job and resign after publicly acknowledging their shortcomings. Perhaps the best example of this is the former education secretary in Britain, Estelle Morris.

In October 2002, Estelle Morris resigned from Tony Blair's Cabinet. But her story didn't begin there. Morris had been presiding over a seriously failing education system in Britain. Under her watch, the marking of test papers for A'Level exams descended into a farce, with pupils receiving incorrect grades. There was a serious breakdown in the vetting of the criminal record of teachers entering the British public-school system. She also didn't win many friends when she sought to intervene after an appeals panel had voted to reinstate two schoolboys who had been expelled for threatening a teacher.

The thing that makes Morris' story worthy of repeating is that prior to demitting office, she had vowed in 1999 to resign if Britain failed to meet specific literacy and numeracy targets by the year 2002. That was a promise she made to the spokesman on education, David Willett, from the Conservative Party. Morris tried to deny she had made the promise, but was betrayed by the minutes from the committee meeting at which she had made the comments.

So in light of all that had gone wrong in her ministry, Morris told Tony Blair she was quitting. Her resignation letter should be internalised by some of those poppy shows in our Cabinet, especially the simpleton in charge of health. In that letter to Blair, Morris said, "I've learned what I'm good at and also what I'm less good at. I'm good at dealing with the issues and in communicating to the teaching profession."

That represents a startling honesty of the kind that would never survive breathing the oxygen of Jamaican politics. Morris then stated, "I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media." Imagine that?! Which Jamaican politician guilty of cocking up matters under their charge would ever pen a resignation letter and make such stark admissions? Who?

Superhuman powers

Which ministers who believe their brains to be bigger than the civil servants who support them and who interpret their achievement of a terminal degree as an assumption of superhuman powers would admit such things?

Morris went further in her letter to Blair: "All this has meant that with some of the recent situations I have been involved in, I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be, or as effective as you need me to be." But see yah! How can one woman be so damn honest?

The lesson to be learnt by our political leaders from Estelle Morris is that if you cannot manage the job, leave. It's as simple as that. Don't be like Fenton, who devoted 117 words to the chikungunya virus in his Budget speech in July, words which by late August he had obviously betrayed by his inaction and incompetence. Estelle Morris admitted to her failings and left the arena.

The scientific definition of the term 'matter' is 'anything that has weight and takes up space'. Fenton doesn't matter. Not anymore.

Selah.

George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.