WHEN GOVERNMENT ministers resign saying that they wish to spend more time with their family, cynics assume that this is a euphemistic way of trying to keep a darker reason from emerging. Mark Simmonds, who has given this as the cause of his resignation as a junior Foreign Office minister, claims that there is no other reason.
Mr Simmonds says that the parliamentary allowance system is now so miserly that he cannot afford to rent the size of accommodation he needs to enable his wife and three children, who live in his Lincolnshire constituency about 120 miles away from Westminster, to come and stay with him in London.
He decided the prospect of the time he could spend with his family being limited to weekends was so intolerable that he would rather not do it. The timing seems a little odd. Mr Simmonds apparently made his intention to stand down as an MP at the next election known to the Prime Minister a month ago, when David Cameron reshuffled his team to remove ministers who were not intending to continue serving at Westminster.
Delaying the announcement was done, it is said, to enable Mr Simmonds, whose ministerial responsibilities included Africa, to chair a UK security council meeting on the Congo. But the delay has meant the resignation follows hard on the heels of Baroness Warsi departing the Foreign Office in disagreement with the government’s stance on Gaza, prompting speculation that government policy is in some disarray.
Mr Simmonds emphatically denies that is the case. Unless some other evidence emerges, his explanation that he and his family are so devoted to each other that separation is too painful has to be taken at face value.
What this should not do is to prompt another examination of MPs’ allowances on the grounds that they are now so stingy following the crackdown after the expenses scandal that they deter able people from public service. It is always argued that if the public wants people of the right calibre in public service, then they need to be paid more.
Mr Simmonds would have known the terms and conditions when he stood at the last election. To most people, an MP’s salary of £67,000 plus, in Mr Simmonds’ case, a junior ministerial salary of £22,000, is a pretty decent income. Even under the slimmed-down expenses regime, and as a father with three children, he would have been entitled to an annual London accommodation allowance of about £27,000. And he was able to employ his wife as an office manager.
Harsh and parsimonious this is not. Indeed, people who are not struggling to balance the demands of work and family life today are a fortunate few. Choices, which almost inevitably involve some sacrifice, have to be made. Mr Simmonds, we would suggest, has been luckier than many others.
A broad coalition is essential in Iraq
Iraq’s president, Fuad Masum, has taken the brave step of ignoring incumbent Nouri Maliki’s claims as leader of the largest party to continue as prime minister into a third term.
By standard democratic norms, Mr Maliki’s claim has some legitimacy. But these are not standard or normal times in Iraq and Mr Masum has more legitimate need to seek someone else.
His alternative is the deputy speaker of the parliament, Haider al-Abadi. Mr Abadi has been nominated by parties representing Shias. Their pressing concern, as it is of all Iraqis and the outside world, is that their country is being torn apart by ruthlessly genocidal Islamic State (IS) militants.
Mr Maliki’s record is abysmal. Not only has he failed to unite the country in opposing them, but the armed forces that were at his command have singly failed to prevent the IS advance. Mr Maliki’s regime was mired in corruption and preferential treatment of his own people almost to the point of total disregard of the countries’ many minorities.
Mr Abadi has said he will seek to right many of these wrongs and that any new government he forms will include a broad spectrum of interests and beliefs. Of course, Iraq has heard these words before and it remains to be seen whether he does bring Sunnis and Kurds on board in any meaningful way.
But if Iraq is to survive and the IS threat to be defeated, Mr Abadi surely has no other option than to be a pluralistic premier. The US, Britain, and other western powers have to stress, and keep on stressing, to him that building the broadest coalition is absolutely essential to turning this crisis around and bringing a tolerable future to his country.