Leading article: Ministers and their responsibilities

Share

Stage management has long been one of this Government's strengths. But the efforts made yesterday on behalf of the beleaguered Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, must count among the most elaborate and - in the short term at least - the most successful.

From early morning, the Government fielded a succession of women MPs to profess their sympathy and support for Ms Jowell in her marital and professional difficulties. By mid-morning, the Prime Minister had expressed his view that Ms Jowell was doing an excellent job and should be allowed to carry on doing it. Then Ms Jowell appeared in person to answer departmental questions before a packed House of Commons; packed, it soon seemed, in every way. The questions could be classified as either friendly or technical. Cocooned in warm collegiality, she put in a competent, if sometimes hesitant performance.

The conclusion must be that she intends to remain in office, and the Prime Minister has given his blessing. The separation from her husband has had the effect - by tragic coincidence or cynical design - of separating her from his business affairs and whatever new allegations the Italian prosecutors come up with. From now on, she can be called to account only for her conduct as Ms Jowell, not for what she might or might not have been aware of as Mrs David Mills.

The separation makes things simpler; one way or another, it may yet save her ministerial career. Whether it should insulate her retrospectively from the consequences of financial arrangements to which she was party as Mrs Mills at a time when she was also Culture Secretary, however, is a different matter.

Probity in government means not just probity, but the appearance of probity. This is what we thought Mr Blair intended to deliver when he came to office vowing that his government would be "whiter than white". The heated conversations that the affair has prompted - on the street, on phone-ins and on internet discussion sites - show that this is what very many people in this country expected too.

Instead, what we have is at best a rather indeterminate shade of grey, and the all-too-predictable accusations that everything - from revelations about Mr Mills's banking arrangements to the separation - is the fault of the malevolent and irresponsible media. Where some see divine conspiracy, however, we see only a healthy investigative instinct concerned about ethical standards in government.

The Jowell-Mills separation may mean that there will be not even the appearance of ministerial conflict of interest in the future. It remains to be shown beyond all doubt, however, that there was no such conflict of interest in the past.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect