I’m leaving! The Art of Writing the Big Letter of Resignation culture

Pperhaps the best touch was the handwritten line in the date; The neatly written, distributed, and reasoned (in terms of layout) letter of resignation of Oliver Dowden to Boris Johnson had left a gap to insert the “24th” by June, as if for a moment he thought of sitting on it for a few days until he saw how things unfolded, but then decided to exfoliate abruptly and certainly before he had to turn on the TV for breakfast. The whole message from the Minister of Culture – as befits a former PR man – was an exquisite exercise in passive aggression and plausible denial, depending on the central statement that “someone has to take responsibility” (but who? Whose responsibility can this mess be?) , paying tribute to those who “work so tirelessly” and “deserve better” (not you, lazy lazy man) and promising future loyalty (after you drop your hook, friend). As Dear John’s letters say, it was not so much “it’s not you, it’s me” as “definitely you.”

Dauden’s letter. Photo: Oliver Dowden / PA

The resignation letter, of course, is the last place you want to draw attention to your own shortcomings, especially if there is even the slightest suspicion that you may jump before you are pressed. Therefore, the ideal specimen may include denunciation, hurt feelings, self-esteem, and calls for the recipient’s sense of ethics and fair play. He may clarify all the reasons why the sender feels embarrassed, or he may claim to be acting on behalf of the greater good; it can be angry or regrettable.

It may not be any of those things. Bill Shankly, for example, prefers to focus when he resigned as chairman of the board in 1974: “Sir, I would like to retire as manager of Liverpool Football Club as soon as possible and I would be grateful if you could take the necessary steps. to start my retirement. “It was signed by W. Shankly. Although Shankly may have learned something about the brevity from Richard Nixon, whose resignation letter to Henry Kissinger contained 11 words.

Far more amusing, of course, are the letters, where you can almost smell burning bridges. In 1924, when William Faulkner decided that the life of a civil servant did not suit a great American writer in the making, he quit his job as postmaster at the University of Mississippi: “As long as I live under the capitalist system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of people with money. But damn it if I offer to be available to any traveling scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. The grandeur is impressive, but it should be noted that the “demands of the rich” were in fact equal only to delivering letters on time or at all – a duty that Faulkner, who regularly closed the office if he wanted to play golf, was strikingly unable to fulfill. .

Others had greater claims to moral heights. Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1939 letter to the daughters of the American Revolution began with self-humiliation – “I have never been a very useful member,” the first lady wrote – before quickly turning to prosecution. She said the organization had been given the “opportunity to lead in an enlightened way” and had failed by introducing a rule to perform only on whites of African-American opera singer Marian Anderson, thus preventing her from singing in the Constitutional Hall. Roosevelt then arranged for Anderson to sing at a concert at the Lincoln Memorial in front of an audience of 75,000.

Political resignations are complex beasts, as their effect can go far beyond who refuses. Nigel Lawson’s departure as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1989, which revolved around the unwelcome influence of Margaret Thatcher’s economic adviser Alan Walters, gave way to John Major; the following year, prompted by the extremely dramatic resignation of Jeffrey Howe, Major became prime minister. What is striking about Howe’s own letter is its sheer detail; going to paragraph 17 of a closely reasoned commentary on the rights and errors of the European Monetary Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Monetary Union, its emotional content is limited to respectful sadness. And yet it changed everything.

Will Dowden’s have the same effect? It is too early to say, of course, but it feels too insignificant and transparently self-serving to enter as a turning point in the annals of conservative history. More interesting to consider is the kind of letter that the seemingly motionless Johnson could write if he ever came to it; one can only imagine it as a wicked mixture of false Churchillisms and Latin of fever, signed just as the people of the relocation are crammed out with a broken child’s cradle.

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