The accountability of politicians

Jowell facing conduct questions

Shadow leader of the Commons Theresa May has demanded a ruling on whether Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has breached the ministerial conduct code. Ms May has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell asking him to make a ruling on the matter.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: it is not the job of civil servants – even the most eminent ones – to judge the behaviour of ministers. If parliament wants to hold Ms Jowell to account it is they who must decide if she has broken the code of conduct and, if so, what they want to do about it.

As the ministerial code of conduct itself says:

it is not the role of the Secretary of the Cabinet or other officials to enforce it or to investigate Ministers

Furthermore, I agree with Brian Barder that an obscure panel of functionaries should not discipline Mayor Ken Livingstone. Politicians are accountable to the electorate, not to bureaucrats.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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