Memo to our leaders: real men take responsibility

The people of Britain are heartily sick of macho posturing on the part of public figures

Share

It is more electrifying and unedifying than really mean reality TV. The departed BBC Director-General Mark Thompson and current Trust chair Chris Patten could be kids in Channel4’s fly-on-the-wall series Educating Yorkshire.  Come on you two, fess up. Stop this fighting AT ONCE. Oi, you, Markie – stop pulling Christopher’s nose. And you Christopher, don’t provoke him. You’re acting like big babies. Right, on Monday, to the head’s office, both of you. 

Real men, we are told, take it on the chin, do not shuffle off responsibility when bad things happen. Truth is they do.  The more powerful they are, the more likely they are to do a runner or impugn others without a smidgen of shame. Some masters of the universe, eh? 

Chris Patten, grandee and last colonial governor of Hong Kong, reproached everyone else but himself over the Newsnight Jimmy Savile debacle. He hired and fast fired George Entwhistle, a decent man and talented journalist who, new into the job, couldn’t handle the explosive revelations and failures of the corporation. Not the fault of the Guv, none of it.

This July, Patrician Patten insouciantly told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that he was kept in the dark by D-G Thompson about the immoral and unjustifiably high-pay offs to senior BBC executives. The Trust, he said, “would be as interested as you are about why we didn’t know”. Thompson, now the chief executive of the New York Times and a man not to be messed with,  has responded furiously in a detailed, long document.

He rebuffs Patten’s insinuations and accusations, claims the Trust was in on the deals, says he has emails to prove what really happened, and suggests the PAC has been misled by chairman Chris and some trustees. Patten calls Thompson’s assertions “bizarre” and denies any part in the huge payment made to Mark Byford, deputy D-G. Before his time, all that. The impression given is it was not his business. On Monday the two massive, combative male egos will be interrogated by the PAC again.

Other top dogs in our country are scrapping and rowing over the Syrian crisis, instead of coming together to help end one of the worst human disasters ever in modern history. Our Parliament was given the right to vote, a virtuous move by Cameron, whose own instincts have always been to go for military intervention. Parliament voted against such involvement. For being a good democrat and responding to public opinion, the PM was leapt upon by snarling party insiders and the implacable right-wing commentariat.

On cue, up popped warmonger Tony bloody Blair, looking for a fight with Ed Miliband for not backing action. Within days Cameron had turned on the Labour leader and his party and those dissenters or abstainers  in his own ranks – among them the erudite and personable Jesse Norman. The disgrace for Britain is not that we didn’t go for violence to quell violence, but that after the civilised process of sombre parliamentary debating and considered voting, our manly leaders can’t stop bickering.

The same male squabbles broke out in Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions. His much heralded “welfare reforms” which promised to save millions of taxpayers’ pounds are badly managed, wasteful and thus far a chaotic mess. So says the National Audit Office (NAO). Does the Secretary of State accept the criticisms or apologise for personal or departmental failures? Is this a serious question?

When he talks incessantly like a manic preacher about the importance of taking responsibility, he means the little people, not the ruling elite. IDS, ex-soldier in Rhodesia and Northern Ireland, is never wrong, never weakened by self-doubts, never admits mistakes. His response to the NAO report is to dump on his officials, and in particular, Robert Devereux, the department’s most senior servant. Liam Byrne, his shadow, then lays into IDS with unseemly relish. The poor people squeezed to strangulation by benefit cuts must watch these combating gladiators and wonder how it helps them. 

It’s the same story with tax evasion, financial regulation, policing, risky banking, major failures in public services and government policies. The men in charge pass the buck, make fantabulous excuses, deny wrong doing, argue disagreeably, feel unappreciated and terribly let down by others, act up and never back down. Masculine success means never having to say sorry. (To be fair, a small number of women with power are just the same.) More serious perhaps is the predisposition of leading men to senseless rancour and aggression, even in our House of Commons, which should be a place of dignity, respect  and rational discourse.

On Monday, when Patten and Thompson face MPs, both sides need to think about their behaviour and responsibilities as public figures. The people of Britain – to whom they are all answerable – are heartily sick of their macho posturing and lack of humility. The PAC’s chair, tough and effective Margaret Hodge, knows that. Do the BBC bigwigs summoned by her committee begin to understand what the public now expects? We shall see.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Katie Price is due to divorce second husband Alex Reid today  

Lay off Katie Price – she’s entitled to state help for her disabled son

Rosie Millard
Burning vehicles are seen near the village of Ghajar on Israel's border with Lebanon January 28, 2015  

Israel vs Hezbollah: Why another war is unlikely

Maya Gebeily
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore