Democracy, Responsibility, and Honor

Hardly a day goes by on which we do not hear of a government minister somewhere resigning his or her office. In a sense, this is hardly surprising. After all, the twenty-five member states of the European Union alone employ hundreds of ministers between them - and even more if junior ministers are included. But why do ministers resign? More interestingly still: why do some not resign although there seem to be compelling reasons for some to do so?

In the absence of empirical research, generalizations must be guesswork. Ministers frequently resign because they find themselves involved in scandals, often connected in recent times with financing political parties. In Italy, one encounters several ghosts of such past misdeeds.

Sometimes ministers resign for what they call "personal reasons." Such reasons may conceal more compelling factors, as the recent resignation of American CIA Director George Tenet suggests. But Tony Blair lost one of his best and most loyal cabinet friends, Alan Milburn, because he genuinely wanted to spend more time with his family.

Blair also lost his ministers of foreign affairs and of development assistance, Robin Cook and Clare Short, respectively. In their case, it was a serious policy disagreement - over the Iraq war - that made them go, and Mr. Cook certainly remains a politician-in-waiting.