Wanted: tearful inadequates to run everything

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The Independent Online

If some of the newspapers are to be believed, the nation is in one of its foot-stamping moods. As things go wrong in government - the Dome, the lottery - the cry goes up, not simply for different policies, but for public apology or, even better, for ministerial resignations.

If some of the newspapers are to be believed, the nation is in one of its foot-stamping moods. As things go wrong in government - the Dome, the lottery - the cry goes up, not simply for different policies, but for public apology or, even better, for ministerial resignations.

A couple of weeks ago, it was the minister responsible for the Dome, Lord Falconer, who was being asked to do the decent thing and spend more time with his family. Now the usual gang of opportunistic politicians and voice-of-the-people journos, having tasted blood with the departure of Dame Helena Shovelton from the Lottery Commission, is turning its attention to the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith.

The rallying cries of this enthusiastic, off-with-their-heads mob have become familiar. What we need is more accountability in public life, more integrity among the servants of the nation, more honourable, courageous behaviour like that of... well, Kevin Keegan.

For some, the selection of Keegan as a role model may appear bizarre but, unbelievably, it seems to be widely held. Since the England manager resigned on Saturday, newspapers have become increasingly impressed by his behaviour. For the Daily Mail's Peter McKay, here was "a lesson in graciousness which ought to shame the 'we're-never-in-the-wrong' creeps who govern us."

Of what did this splendid, dignified act of graciousness consist? Kevin Keegan ran away. Just as he has done in the past with his previous clubs, Liverpool and Newcastle, he took the plaudits when the going was good but, as soon as things got a bit rough, he was out of there. In truth, he is a footballing version of what Nancy Mitford used to describe as "a bolter".

Obviously, he had taken on a difficult and thankless job, but that has been no secret for the past 20 years.

During the summer, it became clear that he was, as he later put it, "not quite good enough"; but he elected not to leave then, when there was time for another manager to be found, but at the worst possible moment for his employers, for the team of players who have been very loyal to him, and for his country.

Anticipating a rollicking in the press the following day, he ducked out and fled. So much, then, for leadership and courage. So much, then, for public-spiritedness.

None of this should matter too much. He was only a football manager, after all, a weak man who made a bad career choice and cracked up. What is more alarming is that an act of supreme self-indulgence, of putting emotion before judgement, self before country, has actually been hailed as behaviour which those who have more important jobs - governing, running the country - should now be adopting.

It is the ultimate triumph of a culture of emotional empowerment. At the first sign of any disappointment, we are encouraged to expect not strength or purpose from our leaders but tearful apologies and simpering offers of resignation. Persistence and strength of personality are characterised as arrogance, while a snivelling admission of inadequacy is heralded as "a splendid example to others in public life".

What a rum do it is. The message for politicians, civil servants and sporting managers appears to be that emotion, feeling and that all-important sense of personal self-worth are now what matters above all else. A sense of duty, the courage to pursue a policy, however difficult and unpopular it may be for an individual in the short term, is now hopelessly out of fashion.

We, the volatile, over-excited, ever-changing public, we are the masters now, and public integrity lies in doing what we tell you to do, and going when we decide we want you to go. Those who govern us should not be leaders, but bolters.

terblacker@aol.com

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