This year has seen a steady stream of public figures who have either resigned, been forced to resign or – if we are to include the Metropolitan Police Commissioner – came very close. Steve McClaren, Sir Ian Blair, Peter Fincham, Lord Browne… the list goes on.
All rather extraordinary, really. Let us not forget that in 2002, the entire Dutch cabinet resigned en masse over the Srebrenica massacre. Honourable, undoubtedly. But is it really sensible? Why is it that we have a particularly bloodthirsty desire for heads on a plate as soon as anything more serious than a minor cock-up hits the headlines?
Take Paul Gray, the most senior tax official to resign over the lost data records. Talk to anyone senior in the civil service and he or she will tell you about an extremely talented individual, perhaps one of the most talented in the service, who has brought about extraordinary change and a difficult merger while still reducing costs by an enormous margin.
At the Met, Sir Ian has presided over a decrease in crime and an increase in police numbers and, although the de Menezes affair is a wholly different category of error to just mislaying data, it is once again an example of one single event unleashing a seemingly unstoppable momentum towards calls for resignation and some kind of public catharsis.
One might be less fulsome about McClaren’s achievements, although those who know more about sport than I do would probably point their fingers at some of the people who were actually supposed to score the goals.
Working with public figures means being ever-conscious of their accountability and the example they set, but it also means presenting the totality of what they achieve, in what are extremely challenging, complex and excessively stressful jobs – not just focusing on a single event or error.
We – and they – are all human, no matter who pays the salary. One might even argue that failure is a sign of experience, lessons learned and mistakes that will never be repeated again. You cannot learn lessons if the door keeps revolving.