David Spencer: Resigned to fact that Ministers won’t take rap

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OUR politicians could learn much from their counterparts willing to accept the responsibilities of their office.

Following the catastrophic and tragic Sewol ferry disaster, the South Korean Prime Minister, Chung Hong-won, offered his resignation.

In doing so, he took personal responsibility for the failings of recovery operation, which was widely perceived to have taken too long to get underway and been too disorganised. Whether a more co-ordinated, swifter response, could have saved lives will no doubt become clear as investigations take place in the months to come, but the Prime Minister has accepted that mistakes were made, and is willing to take responsibility now.

The sight of an Asian political leader willing to offer his head in the wake of such a disaster is not such an uncommon one.

In August 2011, following the Japanese tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, resigned as a result of failings in his government’s response to both incidents, despite initially survive a vote of no confidence in the country’s Parliament. In doing so, he became the fourth Japanese PM since 2007 to resign.

In Malaysia, while the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has not seen any resignations to date, Hashammuddin Hussein, the Malaysian Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister has come under intense scrutiny.

He was once seen as the next big thing in Malaysian politics and was viewed by many as a likely successor to current Prime Minister Najib Razak. Yet this once bright future now appears to be in tatters along with his reputation and his career, following the botched Government response which he has fronted.

Meanwhile the CEO of Malaysian Airlines, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, has also been widely criticised and is widely expected to step down soon.

The willingness and expectation of Asian politicians to take ultimate responsibility for failings that happen on their watch is a refreshing one and does offer voters a degree of respect for the politicians that represent them.

This is in stark contrast to what we see in the UK, where a political resignation usually has to be forced upon them, more often than not by the media.

Most recently, this has been apparent in the Maria Miller saga. She hadn’t even come under pressure as a result of 
Government failings on her watch, but rather for personal failings over her expenses claims and subsequent efforts to disrupt the investigation into them. Her position had been untenable for some time, yet she had doggedly clung to her job before eventually being forced to resign, no doubt at the behest of Downing Street, who knew that the issue had long since become more damaging than it was worth.

During the shambolic response to this winter’s flooding in Somerset, there was huge pressure of Chris Smith in his role as chairman of the Environment Agency, and Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Neither even considered offering to accept responsibility for the failings that occurred on their watch.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Flooding, whose resignation is the least that the long-suffering people of Yorkshire, Somerset and the Home Counties could expect, seemingly disappeared altogether throughout the crisis. Just to remind you, the Minister who continues to hold that brief today is Dan Rogerson MP!

An honourable resignation is not totally unheard of in UK politics, but is just rarely seen from a Government Minister. Nigel Evans MP stood down as Deputy Speaker almost immediately following the allegations that were made against him last year. Having been exonerated in court, it remains to be seen if he has any chance of regaining his former role.

When this Government came into power, it was on the back of promises to clean up politics following the expenses 

he promised public recall of MPs, despite significant championing by some such as Zac Goldsmith MP, remains little more than an aspiration.

No one believes for a moment that the South Korean Prime Minister is directly responsible for the sinking of the ferry, but 
he is ultimately the man responsible for the mistakes 
that were made.

Had such a disaster occurred in the UK, would David Cameron have taken a similar step? It seems highly unlikely, and while that remains the case, the reputation of politicians will remain in the doldrums.

• David Spencer is a political consultant.