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My Mistakes - Volume 25

Public figures who are sacked or resign often do so because of a mistake. If managed properly a mistake can become a positive experience. If managed poorly, it can put an end to a career and ruin credibility. Most political careers end because a politician handled a mistake poorly. This isn't always about taking total responsibility, nor is it about caving into pressure...its about doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.

Lets look at Michael Howard during his Home Secretary days. As a minister he is bound by the constitutional convention of individual minister responsibility. This means that a minister must take responsibility for all mistakes made by his department. The position of Home Secretary has often been considered a poisoned chalice mainly due to its size, something helped in some ways by the separation of the Ministry of Justice. While Michael Howard was Home Sec, a mistake was made by the civil service. The mistake was something out of his control and knowledge, but under the convention of individual minister responsibility he would be bound to take responsibility, and ultimately resign...but he didn't. He refused to accept responsibility, saying that it was something out of his control and it is not right for him to accept responsibility for it. He took a calculated gamble. Constitutional conventions are only binding for as long as those effected by them consider them binding. As it happened, Howard had support from the House and he was not forced to resign.

There hasn't been a minister with the guts, the support, or the moral high ground to defend a mistake by their department since. Unless ministers change the way they think about the making of mistakes, no minister will ever be able to accept responsibility for a mistake and survive the aftermath.

This sets a very bad example for society as a whole. Where anyone makes a mistake they should be judged on their honesty, integrity and morality in responding to that mistake. 

So lets take a personal example. I made a mistake today, and was really unfair on someone. A while ago i followed the blog Cake Wrecks after seeing them in the media and read it for a while. As is the way with these things, i stopped reading after a while. I tried to unsubscribe from the blog, but due to my technical uselessness it didn't work. Having had a very shit day today i sat down and tried to tidy up my blog list. Being so technically inept i failed once again, and as i so often do got angry at the computer for it not doing what i wanted it to do! In my frustration i decided that the blog owner had purposely designed the page so that i couldn't unsubscribe. So i decided to do a tweet about it, and was very unfair...the tweet is still there for all to see! Once i had calmed down, and someone had shown me how to unsubscribe i realised my mistake and immediately apologised, publicly. 

Sometimes pressures in life can bubble over at the wrong times and it can be aimed at the completely wrong people, for the wrong reasons. Of course i was massively embarrassed and it could have been easy for me to bury my head in the sand in the hope it would go away. So i apologised to @cakewrecks and she kindly accepted it.

But as is so often the case, someone feels the need to get the boot in. Half an hour after it had been sorted, and as i was writing this post, i got a message from a stranger telling me how bad tempered i am. I can imagine that politicians have the same problem. Once i thought i had done everything i can to right my mistake, a stranger drags it up again. I can see how easy it could be to engage with someone intent on criticising you despite feeling like you did the right thing.

So it looks like the public are always standing by to put the boot in, kick you when your down, and make you look like a fool. This is a new realisation for me, but i suspect is part of the territory for anyone with more life experience than i do.

My advice to politicians: If you make a mistake, do the right thing immediately. If you are genuine, and response is proportionate to the mistake, and you haven't put anyone in danger, just relax and let the boot wielding public do what they will.

So i once again apologise to @cakewrecks!