Although the resignation of Fiona Woolf was predictable and necessary, the manner of her going leaves the Government looking even more inept than they did a few days ago. Political leadership in a democracy demands understanding the mood and views of the people you are supposed to be representing and then either responding to their views or winning their hearts and minds to the decisions that you know are inevitable or necessary. Fiona Woolf was clearly the wrong person for the task, that should have been evident when she or the Home Office chose to ignore her relationship with the Brittans, long before it was made public. Sadly although the Home Office were prepared to spend the time needed to redraft a letter 7 times once the press had unearthed the relationship, they were apparently not smart enough when she was first selected by them, to spend time vetting her for any skeletons in her closet. This was despite their experience with her predecessor. It was clear from her interview yesterday and behaviour since early September that she does not realise the true impact of her social relationships on the enquiry, but to be fair to Fiona Woolf, she is not the political part of this relationship. Her task was to Chair the enquiry. That said her line that only a hermit could fill the shoes of enquiry Chair in the light of her treatment shows a great deal of naivety or arrogance. The idea that there are not outside of the London and Westminster bubble, women or men capable of Chairing such a prestigious and important process is complete nonsense.
The failure of the Government to sense the way the wind was blowing on this matter and act earlier raises substantial questions about their judgement. It comes days after Cameron got cross over a tax bill which he had only known about for a few hours, but which members of his Cabinet or their advisers have apparently been aware of for several months. However in the case of the abuse enquiry, the gap between the Home Office and the abuse survivors whose voices were eventually the ones that led to Mrs Woolfs resignation is despicable and entirely avoidable. There are many 1000’s of these victims, and of course each individual cannot be consulted on every matter and detail. However by the same token their voices would need to be heard during the enquiry itself, so the names and contact details of the various support groups and the more articulate and confident survivors must have been known to Home Office officials for some time. To consult and inform them on the names of the panel members being proposed, on the choice of the panel Chair and the terms of reference seems to be an obvious thing to do. Yet it was clear from interviews on yesterdays news that none of this has happened. To have got this wrong over the selection of Butler-Sloss was disappointing and a bit inept. However to have carried on since early July with no attempt to correct matters, even as late as this week when some of the panel members were chosen shows how terribly out of touch and incompetent some of the people involved in this process have been.
The big question now is how will the Home Office and Home Secretary show that they are able to do things differently. This is not a mess any of us should be facing. The victims must by now be feeling very angry and ignored. Persuading them to speak and give their views once the enquiry is underway will be a great deal harder than was the case 4 months ago when they were calling for the first Chair of the enquiry to be replaced. If this enquiry looked Political then, 10 months out from a General Election, it is now a great deal more so, and will continue to be challenging as a third Chair is sought. Having seen how appallingly the UKIP campaign for the South Yorkshire PCC elections traded on the abuse in Rotherham, one can only guess how this national enquiry and its handling will play to that particular gallery.