After several days of carefully-worded prevarications, the Prime Minister has finally had to admit that in claiming he had nothing to do with offshore tax havens, he was in pants-on-fire territory.
Media coverage appears to agree that not coming clean at the earliest opportunity was a particularly stupid move. “It’s never the offence, it’s always the cover-up“, says one headline. Cameron doesn’t appear to have helped himself by sounding plummily and defensively irritated when being questioned.
Worse than merely causing offence, or laying himself open to the most caustic ridicule, it also leaves the PM under ongoing suspicion that there may well be more revelations to come.
It’s not that he participated in legally permissible, if morally questionable, financial dealings. It’s that he didn’t tell the truth when asked. Even if he didn’t outright lie, he was evasive and shifty. The public are not daft. They can spot shiftiness when they see it; while for the media, a squirm is catnip and the scent of a buried bone: all the incentive they need to keep on digging. Cameron’s failure of candour is what has led to calls today for his resignation; for many, he has forfeited the level of public trust considered necessary for him to continue in office. He could confess every little peccadillo he’s ever committed, and still people would wonder if there were more.
In the same newsfeed as the multiple pictures of the beleaguered PM, came this report, on how the Oregon State University has changed the way it handles sexual assault cases linked to the college or its students. In 1998, Brenda Tracy was gang-raped by four men including two U of O students on sports scholarships. Despite the accused men’s admissions, the investigation was mishandled and dropped. But in late 2014, after sports journalist John Canzano wrote a piece on the incident, the president of the University, Ed Ray, contacted Ms. Tracy to apologise. Ray had only joined Oregon State in 2003, five years after the assault. Ms Tracy considered his apology genuine and is now working with the University to improve its approach to the problem of sexual violence by or towards students. In contrast, Kristin Samuelson and Laura Hanson, who were also badly treated by the University following student-linked rapes, are still without proper apologies or closure. Both were discouraged from reporting the rapes, and Hanson later discovered that the University had taken possession of her supposedly confidential counselling records without her permission.
Back in the BC days (Before Children), I worked at one time for a Local Authority, and every election day (which was most years, as our councillors retired by thirds rather than in one fell swoop), I would end up in a school or community hall with an electoral register, some rickety plywood booths and some very battered black tin boxes, as Presiding Officer of a polling station. The duty was mostly mind-numbingly and bum-numbingly tedious, and often foot-numbingly cold as well, but on this particular day, the station was in the community hall of an old people’s home, so it was at least warm. I arrived at 6.30, set up the booths, the tables and the notices, and nipped through to the loos, which were opposite the day-room. They were nicely kitted out with modern fittings, and discreet stacks of incontinence supplies in each cubicle. However, when I next paid a visit around elevenses, there was a large blob of shit in the middle of the floor, with a trail of smaller blobs leading to one of the cubicles. I went to find the day manager, who thanked me and said it would be dealt with. At lunchtime, around 2pm, the blobs were still there, each dried to a darker crustiness on top. I spoke to the manager again. “It’ll be dealt with!”, she said, sharply. But by 5pm, the shit was still there – only someone had trodden in it, and a trail of stinking footprints and zimmer-frame skid-marks led back across the corridor carpet towards the day-room. This time, the manager was nowhere to be found, and although I mentioned it to someone in a uniform dress, the smears and lumps were still in evidence when I paid a final visit at 10pm before taking the boxes to the count.
The following morning, I went to find a colleague on Community Care to ask if there was anything that could be done. “It’s not about it being unpleasant for me,” I explained, feeling close to tears. “It’s that if they are that way in front of outsiders, what are they like to the people who can’t get away? I wouldn’t want my Granny or Grandad in a place where nobody cares if shit gets tracked all over, and I don’t think it’s acceptable for anybody else’s Granny or Grandad, either.” My colleague hugged me. “Don’t you worry, I’ll see to it.”
A few days later, I was accosted by the Electoral Registration Officer. “What do you think you’re doing, complaining about E House’s treatment of residents? That’s none of your business. The manager’s threatening not to let me have the hall for elections in future.” I suggested that we could take it to the Chief Executive, as Returning Officer. The ERO declined; we both knew which way that would go.
One of my responsibilities at the Council was Ombudsman cases. Underlying causes of complaints were routine, even trivial matters; what got them taken up by the Ombudsman was maladministration: a failure to ‘do it right’, often compounded by an obstinate refusal to recognise that the aggrieved had just cause for complaint, and frequently aggravated by attempts to blame the complainer for ‘causing’ the situation complained of.
One of the earliest cases in the files concerned a disabled tenant of municipal housing, who had been asking to have repairs and renovations to her home accorded a higher priority, as her condition was being worsened by the current conditions in the house. The housing officer seemed to have treated the request with extreme jobsworthiness, interpreting any discretion in the housing regulations to mean, “although we could accede to your request, we don’t absolutely have to, – so we won’t”. It was not until the tenant, after over two years of patient pleading, went to the Ombudsman, that an officer from the Council actually went round to see the state of the place, which, as it turned out, was shocking.
The officer’s report outlined the work to be done, with costs and timescales, detailed the considerable extra costs the tenant had incurred as a result of having to live in an unsuitable property and outlined the weekly amount needed to cover her living expenses in alternative accommodation until such time as the work was finished. The Chief Executive’s handwritten note in reply was brief. “DO IT. Start NOW. I want a weekly update.” A further, typed, letter to the tenant apologised fully for the specific failings of the Council, explained the arrangements proposed to remedy them and asked for the tenant, if she agreed, to telephone her approval to the Chief Exec’s office so that delays could be kept to a minimum. It also requested permission for the Chief Executive to visit the tenant once the works were done, so that he could satisfy himself that everything had been sorted out.
The final document in the case-file stated that the reporting officer had visited the tenant after the Ombudsman’s case had been closed. The tenant had had no further problems, was fully satisfied with the way her case had been handled. The officer added, somewhat smarmily, that the tenant had had a number of complimentary things to say about ‘a certain Chief Executive’, for having visited to present her with in-person apologies from the Council, a cheque reimbursing her previous expenditure and flowers and chocolates to accompany a ‘New Home’ card.
That was the Chief. He was a wily political operator and undoubtedly autocratic, but his fundamental concern – above his staff and beyond the councillors – was the people, whether as a collective, as small groups, or as individuals, whom the Council was there to serve. I liked and admired him and was very sorry when, a few years later, the Council found itself mired in a scandal whose origins predated his appointment; and, after it all ended in the inevitable disaster, he felt obliged to resign. Although the causes of the scandal were nothing to do with him, he had been unable to make it go away, and he recognised that someone else needed to take over in order to allow a fresh start with a clean slate. Like Ed Ray, the Chief accepted that although he had had no power over what had gone wrong, he did have the power to help right it for the future, and he took the necessary action, however unpleasant it was for himself.
The original administrators dealing with Brenda Tracy, and with the Council tenant, were incapable of seeing that they had got things wrong, and badly. In both cases, there needed to be a change of administration before the people affected by the wrongdoing could be satisfied that they would get redress.
a pity a scandal and an outrage that the current Chief Executive and Board of Southern Health can’t see that they need to go for exactly the same reasons. They are part of the problem, so they can never be part of any satisfactory solution. However many times they repeat, “We have made changes”, the people affected by their failings will not, cannot, have confidence in these pronouncements, as long as they are spoken by the same old faces that have already proved themselves untrustworthy and two-faced.
For people to have any confidence in Southern Health, Katrina and the Sloves need to resign. Now.