A game of musical chairs

Alex Hawkes, AccountancyAge

Peter Mandelson resigned over the Hindujas when he was subsequently cleared.
And even though many feel Tony Blair should have resigned over many things, it
took a long time to get rid of him. People resign for the wrong reasons, and
don’t resign when they should.

In that context, how should we respond to Paul Gray’s resignation last week?
Personally, I think it was horribly unjust. Gray was in office for only eight
months before the row flared up. He couldn’t really have changed that much in
the time he had.

What exactly is wrong at HM Revenue & Customs? Clearly we need to find
out what went on, but this was an IT failure. Why isn’t Steve Lamey, until
recently the CIO and the highest-paid director at HMRC, considering his
position? He has been in charge of IT for three years, after all.

More broadly, this is clearly going to be an issue about the cuts. While I
don’t think many people are about to say: well, let’s spend more money on tax
collection again (there must be efficiencies in a department that is moving
headlong to online rather than paper filing), the change has been badly handled.

The ministers and individuals responsible were surely Dawn Primarolo, in
charge until very recently, Sir David Varney (what price his views on
‘transformational government’ now?) and Gordon Brown.

All have moved on. And the incident explains a deeper problem in our
political culture that probably explains why resignations are so rarely
satisfying. This is nothing more than a game of musical chairs in which you
don’t want to be left standing when the music stops.

Or, in starker terms, politicians and civil servants very often exercise
power ­ but without responsibility.

Alex Hawkes is the news editor of Accountancy Age

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