Here’s a politician with guts (too bad he’s Scottish, we could use more like him)

Here’s an example of a rare breed:  a politician willing to resign from executive office over a matter of principle.  He retains his seat in Parliament, but will remain a backbencher until there’s a revolution in his party.  Will any of Team Obama resign on principal?

  1. Blow to Gordon Brown as Eric Joyce, aide to Defence Secretary, resigns
  2. Bio of Eric Joyce
  3. His resignation letter
  4. How many US cabinet secretaries have resigned on principal?
  5. Afterword and for more information

(1)  The news

Blow to Gordon Brown as Eric Joyce, aide to Defence Secretary, resigns“, The Times, 4 September 2009 — Excerpt:

{Prime Minister} Gordon Brown’s attempt to bolster faltering public support for the war in Afghanistan was derailed last night by the resignation of a ministerial aide. Eric Joyce quit as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, with an extraordinary attack on the Government’s handling of the conflict.

(2)  Brief bio of Eric Joyce

Eric Stuart Joyce (born 1960 in Perth, Scotland) is a British Labour politician and Member of Parliament for Falkirk. Joyce served as a private in the Black Watch (1978-81) before attending University and subsequently rejoining the army as a commissioned officer (1987-1999). Retired as Major. He was elected to parliament in the 2000. Since 2003 he has served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to a number of UK Government Ministers. (Source: Wikipedia)

(3)  His Resignation letter

(Source:  The Times, 3 September 2009)


As you may know, I told Bob Ainsworth some weeks ago that I intended to step down as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Defence Secretary before the start of the new parliamentary term. This seems to me the least disruptive time to do that.

I have been privileged to work as PPS to four senior Labour ministers in four government departments and now feel that I can make my best contribution to the Labour effort in parliament by concentrating on helping, as a regular back-bencher, to show that Labour remains sound on matters of Defence.

Labour was returned to power in 1997 on the back of your great success in turning the economy from a weakness into a strength for Labour. Our continuing success in helping people from all parts of society become more prosperous, while helping the least well-off most, is built upon that. More quietly, during the 90’s, Labour’s then shadow defence team showed how Labour had become, after the disaster of the early 1980s, ’sound’ on Defence. It seems to me that your personal success on the economy won the deal in 1997, while colleagues at Defence sealed it.

We are now, I think, once again at a critical time for Labour and Defence. The Conservatives, of course opportunistically, think they can convince the public that we have lost our empathy with the Defence community. We must not allow this to happen. I know that you have great commitment to our armed forces and this was clear when you visited Afghanistan this week, yet there seem to me to be some problems which need fixing with the greatest urgency.

As you know, two Black Watch soldiers gave their lives during your visit. I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets. Nor do I think we can continue with the present level of uncertainty about the future of our deployment in Afghanistan.

I think we must be much more direct about the reality that we do punch a long way above our weight, that many of our allies do far too little, and that leaving the field to the United States would mean the end of Nato as a meaningful proposition.

The British people have a proud history of facing such realities. They understand the importance of the allied effort in Afghanistan/Pakistan and I think they would appreciate more direct approach by politicians. We also need to make it clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is high but time limited. It should be possible now to say that we will move off our present war-footing and reduce our forces there substantially during our next term in government.

We also need a greater geopolitical return from the United States for our efforts. For many, Britain fights; Germany pays, France calculates; Italy avoids. If the United States values each of these approaches equally, they will end up shouldering the burden by themselves. The first place to start is an acceptance this week by them, and by the Afghanistan electoral authorities, that there must be a second round in the elections there. I do not think the British people will support the physical risk to our servicemen and women unless they can be given confidence that Afghanistan’s government has been properly elected and has a clear intent to deal with the corruption there which has continued unabated in recent years.

Most important of all, we must make it clear to every serviceman and woman, their families and the British public that we give their well-being the highest political priority. Behind-the-hand attacks by any Labour figure on senior service personnel are now, to the public, indistinguishable from attacks on the services themselves. Conversely, in my view we should allow our service personnel greater latitude to voice their views on matters which make distinctions between defence and politics pointless.

I believe the next election is ours to win, thanks greatly to your personal great economic success. But we cannot win unless we grip Defence. Above all, Labour must remember that service folk and their families are our people. We say that we honour them for their risk, bravery and sacrifice and we must at literally all costs continue to show by our actions that we mean it.

I intend to do what modest amount I can to help from the back-benches.

Yours sincerely
Eric Joyce MP

(4)  How many US Cabinet Secretaries have resigned on principle?

Through 1964:  one.  William Jennings Bryan resigned over Wilson’s efforts to get America in WWI.

(from David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest)

(5a)  Afterword

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(5b)  For more information about this topic

To see all posts about our political regime, and how to reform it:

Here are some posts on the FM site about American politics:

  1. The USA *after* this financial crisis – part I, about politics, 13 October 2008
  2. What happens to the Republican Party after the election?, 2 November 2008
  3. Migration from the south into America: new people, new foods, new political systems, 4 November 2008
  4. America’s elites reluctantly impose a client-patron system, 5 November 2008
  5. Immigration as a reverse election: our leaders get a new people, 6 November 2008
  6. R.I.P., G.O.P. – a well-deserved end, 7 November 2008
  7. America gets ready for new leadership (or is it back to the future?), 14 November 2008
  8. Conservative reflections about America – starting to use their time in the wilderness to think, 15 November 2008
  9. Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?, 19 November 2008
  10. Conservatives should look back before attempting to move forward, 5 December 2008
  11. The Democrats believe we are stupid. Are they correct?, 19 December 2008
  12. President Bush gets in a few last blows on America before he leaves, 13 January 2009
  13. Are the new “tea party” protests a grass roots rebellion or agitprop?, 1 March 2009
  14. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
  15. Please read this. For the sake of yourself, your children, and their children, 25 June 2009
  16. More about the tottering structure of the American political regime, 17 August 2009

12 thoughts on “Here’s a politician with guts (too bad he’s Scottish, we could use more like him)”

  1. Having just read Mr.Joyce’s letter of resignation, I conclude he has decided there is no policy behind NATO involvement in A. He fails to understand that we do not have a policy, therefore NATO cannot have one. NATO is another leftover from the Cold War which just plods along while the United States continues to make believe the world has not changed. We created NATO, we paid for it, to oppose the Soviet Union. Why does it still exist? Jihadist terrorism is a real threat to the United States, efforts to strike us and anyone who supports a western version of open societies are relentless. China is a natural ally of the U.S. in this struggle, yet we do not hear a word from that quarter. Why? We continue to use the weapons we created to fight the S.U. because we have them, not because they are appropriate. Great Britain will become alienated from the US for no good reason if we continue the senseless policies we are pursuing. Worse, we will alienate ourselves because these policies are bound to create worse circumstances.

  2. {gutter language snipped} .. Eric Joyce – A coward – A Labour lap dog and a failure in the Black Watch who jumped before he was pused. Now only worried about his seat as Labour face an electoral wipeout in Scotland. The worst possible time of rat – deserting a sinking ship.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I know little about UK politics. Can you support any of these heavy charges?

  3. I am amazed, after reading many of the presentations on this site , to see the above gung-ho comments. I think Major Joyce did well , by the bootlicking standards of the day, to write and resign. I also think Major Joyce was wrong on 2 counts .

    First , that the majority of the UK poulation see the reason for the AfPak conflict . They do understand the issues , and they dont agree with the conflict . Second , that his Labour party has made a good job of gov. A lot of us could just hang up our harps and weep .
    I hope Labour wont win the next election . Personally , I feel betrayed . When Bliar was first elected , there was little to chose between the 2 parties . I voted Labour because of their old record on Peace , CND , workers-of-the world-unite etc , meant they would be less likely to get involved in some idiotic war . Cue hollow laugh .
    If we are bringing Scottish justice and Magrahi into this , I would like to chuck in the following words to counterbalance , oil : Existing criteria for release of prisoners ; independence of judicary , Vincennes , Iran , PLO , trial without jury , dubious evidence , one man ? , Blood money , IRA ,Noraid . Compassion .

  4. FM: “I know little about UK politics.

    Clearly, the British have been resigning on principle since Blair joined Bush back in 2003. The most prominent was Robin Cook:

    “on 17 March he resigned from the Cabinet. In a statement giving his reasons for resigning he said, “I can’t accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.” Cook’s Wikipedia entry:

    From the Wikipedia entry about Gordon Brown’s premiership:

    “To make matters worse, Brown’s cabinet began to rebel with several key resignations in the run up to local and European elections in June 2009.”

    Fabius Maximus replies: The only resignation on principal I see here is Cook’s, which is rare and impressive. There resignations during Brown’s administration resulted from scandals and plotters caught in the act — not matters of principle.

  5. I think the pre-EU election resignations were because they were exposed with snouts in trough re expenses , not on matters of principle.
    The service person , Joyce refers to , is General Dannatt , who noticed a few weeks before his retirement ,that the troops could use the occasional helicopter , etc . PM Brown replied that a) they had plenty helicopters b ) they might get shot down c) there was nowhere to park them d)we had some more we could use when we worked out how to turn on the computor e)we could borrow them off the Americans , Russians , Uzbeks , etc , thereby keeping the military industrial complex to heel .
    Also set his spies to expose General Dannatts expenses claims , and see if they could top Politicians expenses claims of up to £ 340 , 000.
    Alas , Dannatt had only spent £ 19, 000 , which included providing several fancy dinners for visiting military . ( they were served Wallmart – quality chicken wings ,and wine at £ 1.19 a bottle . )

  6. Dammit Fabius, I am not a grammar nazi, but this is a matter of principle!
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for catching that. Clicking “change all” in the Word spellchecker must be done with care!

  7. Go to the Black Watch Forums and read from people who were in charge of cowardly Joyce – if you know anything of this man you will know he only ever cares about his OWN SKIN.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Could you point us to something specific? I don’t see a search field on the website. There are no new threads about Joyce or his resignation. Google points to a few brief remarks, nothing substantial.

  8. Looks like AR is right, this man is not respected in his own country , or regiment: “Labour Defence PPS Quits“, Ian Dale, posted at his blog, 3 September 2009. See ‘ comments ‘ from his constituents especially 6 th down .
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is an absurd standard. If you judge by llistening to a his (or her) opponents, you’d say that no politician in history was respected in his own country. Read what Lincoln and FDR’s opponents said.

    Also, there is probably more to this story than easily visible from this side of the pond: “How Labour plotted to smear daughter of new army chief – whose ‘crime’ was to work for Cameron”, Daily Mail, 5 September 2009 — Excerpt:

    A Labour plot to smear the new head of the Army, General Sir David Richards, because of his daughter’s ‘crime’ of working for David Cameron was exposed last night.

    The threat to target the General, who took up his new job just nine days ago, was one of the real reasons that Labour MP Eric Joyce resigned as an aide to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth last week. Former soldier Mr Joyce has told friends he attended a meeting at the Ministry of Defence where a discussion took place on how to target Sir David’s predecessor, General Sir Richard Dannatt, for criticising the Government’s failure to give enough support to British troops.

    And The Mail on Sunday has established that Mr Joyce was also disturbed to hear Labour colleagues discuss Sir David’s 25-year-old daughter, Joanna Richards, who recently became Mr Cameron’s diary secretary. Well-placed sources say Mr Joyce feared Labour was preparing to deploy more smear tactics against General Richards if he stepped out of line like General Dannatt.

  9. Yep but further down the page it says :
    He was a schoolteacher in the army . ( Nothing wrong with that , if you dont then claim to have dodged bullets in Bosnia) Against army rules ,while serving he published an article in the Fabian society magazine . Carpeted , he resigned before pushed , claiming loudly that army was racist, elitist and sexist . ( proabbly with justification , I dont know .)He then may have tried a claim for some sort of unfair dismissal / discrimination .( As an employer , I reflexly start spitting sparks ) He had million pound expenses revealed in the recent Duckhousegate affair.
    He ‘forgot ‘he had owned of his houses , when explaining his expenses . This he should have to explain to IR .( Only he probably wont have to .) He loudly backed the amalgamation of all the Scottish regiments into one regiment , following a policy review .
    But when some regiments were allowed to continue as separate entities , he claimed the credit .
    Little things . Probably untrue . I suppose we just keep hoping for knights in shining armour , but have been conned so often …
    Fabius Maximus replies: Those accusations are mostly low-quality snipping.
    * I don’t know about Joyce’s military history, but I’d suggest care for any non-vet criticizing a vet with 11 years service for not being John Wayne.
    * The scandal about expense billing results from a decades-long practice that has enmeshed a large fraction of Parliament (esp its leadership). Since western nations don’t pay their representatives proportionate to their role in society, there is a centuries-long trail of financial scandals. George Washington, Daniel Webster, Lyndon Johnson — and now Rep Rangel. They pop up every year like flowers, and will continue to do so until we change their compensation.
    * As for “knights in shining armor”, perhaps we’ll find them when we deserve them. The leaders of a Republic cannot be of higher moral fiber than the people who vote for them.

  10. A matron , captain or gangmaster raises( or lowers ), his workers to his standards . So before you appointed a matron , you’d check whether in her career as a nurse ,she had been clean , caring and punctual .

  11. anna,

    Indeed. At least in the U.S., our representatives are properly considered employed by the people. Thus your formulation and FM’s agree. We raise or lower our “workers”/”elected representatives” to our standards.

  12. This stirs memories of my archaic cultural roots . Moral Rectitude vs Moral Turpitude . Straight seams to your stockings and a hat in Church . And they thought they were bringing us up to cope with the future .

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