wed 10/08/2022

My Resignation, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

My Resignation, BBC Four

My Resignation, BBC Four

From sex to morality, a too brief history of the fine art of handing in one's notice

Jacqui Smith: the only politician to resign for a sex scandal in which she had no part

I Resign. It’s not a phrase you hear that often these days. Unlike, obviously, You’re Fired. There was a time, largely synonymous with the era when Tory toffs and grandees had sufficient private income to walk away from employment, that a chap could afford to resign, as the phrase has it, with honour.

And it usually was a chap, usually after he’d been found to be hopping on and off strippers or tarts or his secretary or handing over the Falklands to some jumped-up tinpot little Johnny Foreigner. Nowadays politicians prefer to wriggle on a spit and keep the chauffeur. Honour be damned, buggered and sent in the general direction of hell.

My Resignation was a brief history of the rarefied art of leaving office with head held high. At times it was all too brief. Of all the living politicians who had volunteered to walk the plank, few seemed to have received the programme-makers’ invitation in the post. Lord Mandelson was silent on his various trips through the door marked Exit. David Mellor and Tim Yeo and various other Tory saucepots were for some mysterious reason not available to talk about the moment they were caught with their trousers down (or, in the case of Edwina Currie, egg on their face). Cecil Parkinson spoke for them all. “I have no further comment,” he told reporters in a clip from nearly 30 years ago, and he still doesn’t. And nor do any of them.

The only politician who actually stepped forward to speak about sexual scandal was Jacqui Smith, who seems to be trapped in a permanent cycle of apology and atonement after accidentally asking the state to pay for her husband’s home entertainment. Richard Luce, meanwhile, has recovered from the indignity of cocking up negotiations with Argentina in 1982 and was all too happy to relive, when all’s said and done, the only moment in his political career that anyone can actually remember. Alastair Campbell popped up, but then when doesn’t he? And it wasn’t quite clear why. Unless one missed something in his modestly proportioned 9000-page tome about being in charge of Tony Blair, he’s somewhat more resigned against than resigning. A rueful Greg Dyke still brandishes the scars of the dodgy dossier saga, and to this day wishes he hadn’t walked as DG of the Beeb. “I should have said no," he said. "‘You want me to go, fire me.’”

My_ResignationSo no, the most interesting cases involved non-politicians, who resigned not behind some shady moral fig leaf but on a matter of actual conscience. For them, unlike for politicians and public figures like Dyke and Max Mosley (wielding the sword of honour as per), the decision to resign has had lasting consequences, not all of them positive. Katharine Gun (pictured above), a translator at GCHQ, hasn’t had a full-time job since she went public on a US government email encouraging staff to bug UN council delegates in order to then “persuade” them to support the invasion of Iraq. Caroline Meagher still looks haunted by her attempt to resign rather than, as a military policewoman, investigate soldiers who, like her, were secretly gay. Instead of being allowed to walk out of the army with a pension, she was discharged for unnatural conduct contrary to military discipline and convicted of fraud for claiming travel expenses.

Others have suffered less. Stephen Bolsin seems more than happy to look himself in the mirror. He had the adamantine moral certainty to resign, move to a new continent and then blow the whistle on the Bristol heart surgeons who persisted in operating on babies despite a shocking rate of failure. “I suspect my resignation has saved thousands of lives,” he concluded, “if not tens of thousands.”

peppiatt2Not everyone throws in the towel quite so successfully. Richard Peppiatt (pictured left) was a tabloid hound who grew tired of making up stories for Richard Desmond’s arsewipe rags and finally decided to walk out in a huff when the paper started, in his words, talking about the EDL “as if they were the SDP”. His letter to Desmond was all set to run in The Guardian when the MPs’ expenses scandal blew. A Bristol surgeon got struck off by Bolsin. Despite Peppiatt’s dignified walkout, the Daily Star continues to subsist on inflatable stories with no factual toehold.

Inside this grab-bag of lurid tales there was an intriguing and important documentary struggling to find a voice. But it was all slightly blighted by the current assumption that viewers will start fixing themselves cups of tea if the camera stays on a single shot for longer than seven seconds. They don’t do that on Radio 4. They won’t on BBC Four either. This could and should have been a series, with one episode on the changing mores of the sexual scandal, another on the Falklands and Iraq, and a third would have given proper space to examine the lonely courage of the whistleblower and the psychological cost of a conscience. Perhaps the head of BBC documentaries should consider his (or her) position.

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Comments

I am so impressed. She resigned while the rest of us regular folks are praying that we still got a job this Christmas. Must be nice having a 7 figure sum in your bank account so you can make a dramatic statement to make your peers say 'jolly good.' I am taxed to death, my 4 figure retirement account hasn't budged in years and all you have is some pure bred Eaton educated limousine socialist's moral high ground? Let her do that with 2 kids, little savings, an unemployed spouse and a government who cares more about everything but their citizens. Write your usual drivel about Sara Palin, Bush, or Neoconservatives, its less depressing.

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