Opinion: Stephenson resignation – the bar just got lowered

The resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson as commissioner of The Met is significant in a way beyond the obvious.

As someone tweeted earlier, from their resignation statements, one might surmise that everyone who has resigned so far has done absolutely nothing wrong. However, the difference in the Paul Stephenson case is that everybody seems to be falling over themselves to agree.
In the hour after his resignation I saw or heard statements from Boris Johnson, Kit Malthouse and Jenny Jones all lauding the honourable decision Sir Paul had made and in many ways lamenting his loss.
So, let’s take it on face value that Sir Paul has indeed done nothing wrong – but that he has done what I have been calling for many others to do in recent weeks; that is accept with great power comes great responsibility, and that even if you are not to blame for things that go wrong, taking responsibility means resigning none the less.
Suddenly, the game has now changed. Up to now nearly everyone has tried to play the ‘don’t blame me,  I knew nothing’ card. Now that excuse wont wash, because a higher standard has been set. 
Now News Corpororation executives, police officers and politicians alike will have to accept responsibility, and act accordingly – or stand accused of doing the dishonourable thing.
Statements like James Murdoch’s acknowledgement, for example, that he authorised payments without being in full possession of the facts, make him look rather exposed.
And anyone – even up to the Prime Minister  – who tries the ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘I was misled’ lines must realise that from today, this will simply no longer do. From now on, even if you are not to blame, you’re still responsible.
Sir Paul, with his resignation, has done his country one great service. The bar for getting the great and the good to resign just got lowered.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Philip Rolle 17th Jul '11 - 9:46pm

    No, I don’t think so.

    The bar is exactly where it should be. If , in Sir Paul’s position, you accept £12k of quasi-hospitality, you potentially compromise yourself and undermine your office.

    It is right that he resigned. But I wanted to hear why he thought it was ever appropriate to a freebie equivalent to more than what some folk earn in a year.

    And what about this Bribery Act that’s just come in? I should imagine that it won’t be long before a case comes before the courts involving a sum less than £12k

  • He either had to resign or sack, discipline or demote some people beneath him for failing to get anywhere close to doing a proper thorough investigation. As usual the police are not able to manage their own organisation properly. They could have given the Mulcaire evidence to a couple of interns and they would have been able to make more of it.

  • Darren Reynolds 17th Jul '11 - 10:23pm


    It riles me enormously that we could all see the problem months ago but Clegg went around defending Coulson and defending the PM.

    Compare: two big figures in journalism are hired to do PR for public bodies. (1) Former deputy editor of NOW gets part-time job on £1,000 a day working for Met Police. Gets arrested over phone hacking. Turns out head of Met not directly involved in hiring, but he resigns anyway on principle. (2) Former editor of NOW gets full-time job on £750 a day working for Prime Minister. Gets arrested over phone hacking. Turns out PM did hire him personally.

    What happens next?

  • Simon McGrath 17th Jul '11 - 10:24pm

    @Philip – there is no evidence he was bribed. although i can’t imagine what he was thinking of

  • Keith Browning 17th Jul '11 - 10:32pm

    The word no-one has dared mention yet is


    could that be the answer/connection to so much of this whole story.

  • @ Keith Browning………there will be people who disagree with you on this…so let’s just shake hands on it!

  • Richard Morris 17th Jul '11 - 11:10pm

    Philip – yes agree bar is now where it should be. But it wasn’t there before.

    Darren – yes, quite right. The PM is now in a very bad place. Someone has resigned on principle for doing less than Cameron did.

    As to the Freemasons – I don’t feel remotely qualified to comment!

    Thanks for all the feedback so far

  • Richard Morris 17th Jul '11 - 11:10pm

    Philip – yes agree bar is now where it should be. But it wasn’t there before.

    Darren – yes, quite right. The PM is now in a very bad place. Someone has resigned on principle for doing less than Cameron did.

    As to the Freemasons – I don’t feel remotely qualified to comment!

    Thanks for all the feedback so far

  • I hope that when Rebekah Brooks was interviews she was cautioned thus:

    “You have the right to remain silent but before we get down to it, can I just tell you what I want for my starter and main course?”

  • I predict Cameron will either resign or come pretty damn close to doing so. @Richard Morris is indeed right that Stephenson, while indeed guilty of sleaze, is resigning for much less than what Cameron has done in regard to Coulson, his friendship with Brooks and the suspicious number of meetings he has had with Murdoch’s henchmen in 14 short months. The PR man needs some good PR himself: two of his “closest friends” have now both been arrested on suspicion of illegal interception of communications and the more serious crime of corruption.

    If there is even a tiny shred of truth to a few of the rumours going around about Cameron and what “experience”, shall we say, that Coulson brought to No. 10, we may soon have at the least new PM.

  • “It is right that he resigned. But I wanted to hear why he thought it was ever appropriate to a freebie equivalent to more than what some folk earn in a year.”

    Yes, I think this is the nub of the matter which many people seem not to recognise. Anyone in public office who accepts a freebie is automatically in the wrong and opens themselves up to compromise at a later date. A man in Stevenson’s position should have been very aware of that. The actual amount of money is not important – and, in any case, for a person on his salary £12k is hardly unaffordable so he could easily have paid it for himself.

    Accepting such benefits without a second thought is what creates a culture which is damaging to integrity in public life.

  • @ Darren I do not recall Nick actually defending Cameron for hiring Coulson, all I recall him saying that the post of Director of communications was in the purview of Cameron not the DPM. Pls correct me if I have missed something.

  • Simon Hebditch 18th Jul '11 - 11:08am


    I don’t usually try to be fair to Nick Clegg but I have no reason to disbelieve him when he said that he had cautioned Cameron about appointing Coulson but acknowledged that his staff appointments were his final decision.

  • Given the barbed comments made by Stephenson in his resignation is it not time for Nick Clegg to force the issue with Cameron and advise him that if he doesn’t step down as leader of the conservative party, and therefore also as Prime Minister that the Liberal Democrats will no longer be able to support the coalition due to the fundamental question as to where power in the conservative party actually lies?

  • Nick Noble, that might be seen as a coup attempt by a Deputy PM who fancies being PM!

    FWIW, Clegg is in a terrible bind, he, and his party, are relatively untainted compared to the other two but Miliband is doing the fighting, and Cameron the running, while Clegg can’t be seen to cheer too loudly for one side or the other.

    Bringing down Cameron would bring down the Coalition, the Tory right would put one of their own in his place and demand a renegotiation of the Coalition agreement, and, given their ideological certaint,y it would likely not be agreeable to anyone wanting to occupy the centre ground.

    But of course Clegg can’t support Cameron over Coulson…

  • Does the police force not have formal rules about officers accepting hospitality? If it doesn’t, I find that the most astonishing thing about this whole affair so far.

  • I do not say this very often but I have to say that I am listening to Mllliband at tte moment and I think he has got it right linking the Banking crisis, with the MPs expenses scandal, to the Murdoch Press and the Police. There is little doubt that there has been abuses of power and a lack of responsibility in some of the upper echelons of British Society. The British establishment is at risk and that may creat a vacuum that could be filled by extreme right parties.

  • @Nick Noble:

    Not going to happen. Nick Clegg is apparently going to defend Cameron to the hilt today. Or so says the Telegraph (I think).

  • In fact, Clegg has just defended Cameron in even stronger terms than Boris. Nice to see Clegg being on the side of the people again….sigh.

  • lib dems you have an opportunity to show that you are untainted. Do it!

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