Prompted by a comment on my blog, I return to the issue of 'donorgate' - and the appropriate response when something like this goes awry. Now, I've been there. Been vilified/crucified/humiliated - and as a consequence of something I knew nothing whatsoever about. My name was dragged through the broadsheets mud (only time my photograph has appeared in the Telegraph). Knowing nothing about the problem was no defence. I took the full hit - and it hurt, big-time. This is what happened.
The Development Board for Rural Wales was a Quango, established in 1977. It doubled up as a New Town Corporation, which involved it building and managing several thousand houses - essentially for 'key workers'. These houses were let from a list of 'key worker' applicants, which was publicly available. When there were no names on this list, houses were let to names on another list, based on 'needs' criteria - but this list was not public (which later became known rather pejoratively as the 'secret list). This system was entirely in order until 1985, when a new Housing Act clause decreed that all such lists should be public. I was never able to discover why the Board's procedures were not changed at the time. I was told that the clause was so uncontentious and unremarked upon, that no-one ever noticed - which a few years later turned out to be a hell of a pity from my perspective.
I was appointed Chair of the Development Board in 1989. Housing was only a peripheral role in our work, and my focus was on transferring the entire stock to a housing authority. Never crossed my mind that there might be something wrong - nor the mind of any other member of my Board, or officer. In 1993, a house was allocated to the Board's Housing Officer. At the time there were no applicants on the 'public' list - and the letting was approved by the appropriate line manager. I still remember my blood running cold when I was told, several months later, that the Ombudsman and later the Auditors had looked at our letting procedures and found the letting improper because it had been from a non-public list.
Now, if I'd sacked the Chief Executive or some other senior officer, I might have escaped criticism - and I would have done just that, if one of them had done something wrong. But they hadn't, and so I didn't. At that time, there was a quango vilification campaign in full swing, and in my heart I knew that some blood would have to be spilled - and that it would probably have to be mine. I thought it was incredibly unfair. But that's life. There was the expected attempt by politicians to portray me in a bad light - which generally failed. The whole episode caused me great pain - and changed my character for a long time. Its probably the only experience that really knocked me back. It was only with the support of others that I recovered. Fortunately, everyone in Wales seemed to accept that I was the victim of circumstance, and there was very little criticism of me personally.
I resigned my position on May 12th, 1994, which is why I always remember the date of John Smith's death. The fact that I knew nothing whatsoever about the issue, and even on reflection, cannot see how I could have been expected to, was no defence. Perhaps now dear readers, you can understand why I am quite so outraged by the response there has been to 'donorgate' - and the "We knew nothing about it" defence. It was one rule for me , and another for Labour Ministers.