A bizarre meeting with David Cameron left Lord Hill still in his post – despite the fact that he had quit. So what is the art of a good resignation?
Poor Lord Hill. As under secretary of state for schools, he had grown sick of his job. He gradually talked himself into resigning. After several failed attempts, he finally managed to wrestle an appointment with the prime minister. And then, nothing. If reports are to be believed, David Cameron didn’t accept the resignation. Nor did he refuse it. He just absent-mindedly mumbled something about keeping up the good work and then wandered out of his office, late for a photocall.
It’s not known exactly why Cameron was too distracted to listen to Lord Hill’s resignation speech. Perhaps he was engrossed in a particularly tricky game of Fruit Ninja, or maybe he was trying to work out which pub he had left his daughter in again. But the fact remains that Lord Hill tried to resign, and bodged it up.
His mistake was that he wasn’t emphatic enough. I know Lord Hill’s pain only too well, because I’ve also bungled a resignation speech. In 2004, I was a homesick kindergarten teacher in South Korea. After a year of joylessly mopping up toddler sick, I marched into my principal’s office determined to leave. I set out my case to her as clearly as I could, repeatedly underlining the fact that she could never talk me out of it. And then she started crying. I stayed there for another six months in the end, missing another Christmas with my family as a result.
There’s an art to a good resignation, and neither Lord Hill nor I have it. If you want to resign properly, you can’t just meekly hand over a letter. You want to do it in style. You want to blaze out, exploding every bridge behind you. You want to be Doug, the man who wrote ‘I QUIT’ across his chest before tearing off his shirt on a table in his office’s canteen. Or Greg Smith, whose resignation letter from Goldman Sachs came in the form of a New York Times piece calling his bosses “toxic and destructive”. Or Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who swore at a passenger, opened a beer and leapt out on to his plane’s emergency chute. Folk heroes, one and all.
Lord Hill is still under secretary of state for schools. One day he’ll resign, maybe by throwing a chair through a window or swallowing the key to Michael Gove’s warehouse of Bibles. We just all need to root for him until that day comes.
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