With Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith resigning from the Government, we look back at some of the memorable resignations in UK political history.
Sir Geoffrey Howe
The loyal minister reached the end of his tether over Europe, and Geoffrey Howe penned a rather gentle resignation letter. But when he stood up in the House of Commons on Nov 13 1990 to deliver his speech (a tradition extended to all resigning ministers) he went straight for Thatcher’s jugular:
It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain
Thatcher resigned 11 days later.
Britain’s Westland helicopter manufacturer needed to be rescued by the government in 1986, and there was “heated debate” on whether a European partner should be sourced (BAe and Augusta) or an American company (Sikorsky). Then Secretary of Defence Michael Heseltine wanted the European solution, while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported the American option. A letter was leaked about his thoughts, and that was enough to seal his fate, and he walked out of the Cabinet, out of power, but into the contact books of every journalist for the next twenty years.
The 15 Ulster Unionists
17 Dec 1985 saw fifteen resignations in one day (surely Labour won’t beat that), as every Ulster Unionist MP resigned from the house of Commons, forcing a multitude of by-elections in Northern Ireland. They rejected the Anglo Irish agreement that had just passed the House as it gave Ireland a voice in the politics of Northern Ireland. They returned to the House with a fresh mandate from their electorate.
Things to do as an MP, have an affair. Things not to do as an MP, have an affair with a woman who is also having an affair (at the same time) with a Russian Diplomat. Especially if you are the UK Secretary of State for War.
But if you do decide to do all that, then you at least get immortalised in a Pet Shop Boys video in twenty five years.
Katharine Stewart-Murray, the Duchess of Atholl
As an MP, she was the first woman in a Conservative Government, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education in 1924, but her long career in Parliament came to an end on 28 Nov 1938, as she stood down from her seat in protest at Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement to Germany to force a by-election. Unlike a similar move by David Davis, she lost, although history looks favourably on her principles.
The cabinet voted for the Iraq War, and Robin Cook could not support it. Honour had him resign the cabinet and make one of the finest speeches from the commons.