Earlier this morning on Sky News, LibDem MP Lynne Featherstone called for heads to roll in the Baby P investigation. Specifically, she said that senior officials in the Children's Services department of Haringey Council should be sacked. She went on to put a lot of blame on the Labour group which controls the Council and implied that heads should roll there too. I think she is right, but not for politically partisan reasons.
People need to feel that the buck stops with someone. It should stop with Sharon Shoesmith, but the woman is clearly blinkered to her ultimate culpability. I agree with those to deprecate those whose only preoccupation is to scapegoat social workers and I do not seek to do so here. The story told by the whistleblower Nevres Kemal in today's Mail on Sunday show quite clearly that Ms Shoesmith headed a totally disfunctional department, where social workers had no clear lines of authority, where they were scared stiff to gainsay their leaders and where few procedures were ever laid down or followed. That is Ms Shoesmith's fault. I can't see how anyone could argue otherwise.
It may also be said that there was a failure of political leadership. Councillors, should, it is alleged have monitored what was going on and acted accordingly. In theory that is absolutely correct. The Cabinet Member for Children's Services is perhaps the only politician who could have noticed and then taken action. But she didn't. Her only role so far has been to issue a belated, albeit very well put, apology on behalf of the political leadership of the Council.
I have some sympathy for councillors in this predicament. Although Cabinet members get a salary, it is very part time, and it is surely impossible to monitor all the work of a large council department with such a huge budget - especially if you have no expertise in the policy area. You do your best, but often your best isn't good enough. Sad though that it, the buck has to stop somewhere.
Finally, a word about LibDem MP Lynne Featherstone. It is she who has made the running on this, even though Baby P lived in the neighbouring constituency. Baby P's MP was David Lammy who has maintained a vow of silence, despite having been warned of the problems in Haringey by Nevres Kemal's letter six months before Baby P's death. Lynne Featherstone hasn't just reacted to the current crisis. She broached Haringey Council's leader in 2006 alerting him to the problems within the Children's Services department, yet he did nothing. Featherstone hasn't sought to play politics, but she is clear where the blame lies and is demanding that those responsible are held to account for their decisions and negligence. She has shown herself to be a very adept politician on this issue and it is unbelievable that she isn't being used more widely by the LibDems. Nick Clegg seems to have punished her for running Chris Huhne's leadership campaign. If he has any sense he will give her a leading job soon. She has more talent in her little toe that certain other LibDem women have in their whole bodies.
I agree with Lynne Featherstone that the country is demanding that someone takes responsibility for what happened. It seems clear that Ms Shoesmith must be sacked but I also think that there needs to be some political accountability too. I'm not talking about nationally, but locally there are two politicians - the leader of the council and the Cabinet member for Children's Services - who need to think very carefully about whether their own resignations might help to start the closure process.