Dr Jenny Dugmore’s recent assessment of Parliamentary expenses made me think about Governance in the UK, or rather the complete lack of it. Governance describes the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented or not implemented. Good governance has a number of key characteristics that assure us that corruption is minimised. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive to present and future needs, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.
That said, I am worried about the state of our democracy and the undermining of the Governance of the country and our political system. We have a weak dithering prime minister who is allowing the government and government decisions to be dictated from the House of Lords. As a matter of extreme urgency, we must return to the system whereby all actions and policy changes that affect us are debated fully in the House of Commons by our elected representatives. The years of sofa style government and interference by the unelected Lords like Mandelson who, because of a weak Prime Minister, seem to think they run the country, must be consigned to history.
One of the central tenets of the British parliamentary system is a long-held convention that MPs are men and women of honour and integrity who would never lie or mislead the House of Commons. In fact, The Ministerial Code warns that ‘it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error’. The penalty for transgression is (was) severe – to quote the code: ‘Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation at the earliest opportunity.’
Sadly, over the past few years, under this Government and in particular with the partisan help of speaker, Michael Martin (now removed), this fundamental part of Commons discipline became almost totally ignored and a culture of lies and deceit was incubated. It has become routine for some ministers to mislead when addressing the Commons and not be punished or brought to task. If you need proof just look at the track records of Blair, Brown, Balls, Vaz et al.
Keith Vaz lied about taking undeclared payments from a person he subsequently nominated for an honour. Elizabeth Filkin, the then Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, uncovered the lies. But protected by Tony Blair, Vaz was never brought to account and Filkin was cast adrift from her post for daring to expose such corruption.
The dishonesty of Tony Blair was breath-taking. He repeatedly misled the Commons on a range of matters and, in particular, over the Iraq War. Blair seriously misrepresented the briefings he had been given by British intelligence and took this country into an illegal war. Disgracefully, to this day, these distortions of the truth remain uncorrected on the official records.
Gordon Brown is even more mendacious than Blair. When he became prime minister, he promised to bring new integrity to British politics, but we are still waiting. Brown constantly gives misleading statements in interviews and press conferences and will frequently mislead the House when he appears at the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions. There is no doubt is has a good record with economy – economy of truth that is. Just listen to the rhetoric. The latest porky concerns the inevitable and long overdue public spending cuts. Despite his own figures stating that massive public spending cuts loom from 2011 and the Government’s own financial tables show capital spending is set to collapse, he is adamant that there will be no cuts under Labour. I doubt he knows the difference between fact and fiction – so deluded is he that he actually believes his own propaganda.
Many of us were deeply concerned about the New Labour culture of spinning lies from the start - remember Blair, tobacco and F1 that set the early tone (no pun intended) of systemic lies and deceit? It is only because of our outdated and undemocratic voting system that furnishes a party a 66 seat majority in the House of Commons with only 22% of the total electorate voting for them.
As the MPs’ expenses scandal shows, modern politicians believe they ride the expenses and allowances gravy train and make claims that no ordinary company employee would ever consider let alone countenance. Sadly, in modern British politics these ‘professional politicians’ believe that they can operate in a parallel universe to the rest of society according to a set of rules that they define, and then police their own actions. I’m not sure that this makes for good governance!
Following the public backlash over expenses, the Government has just introduced a draft Parliamentary Standards Bill which is designed to address the expenses and allowances debacle and put an end to the financial corruption in Westminster. The first draft of this bill contains a new statutory requirement that politicians must tell the truth… In other words MPs will face a legal challenge and the prospect of jail if they tell lies. A clear admission that they can no longer be trusted to abide by the ages old code of conduct.
Disgracefully, action is now under way to stop this long overdue reform with Justice Secretary Jack Straw committing to remove the ‘honesty clause’ from the Bill. You just couldn’t write the script – Straw’s actions suggest to me that there is much more that needs to be exposed and even more that needs to be changed.
The culture of lying is now so well established in Westminster that misrepresenting the facts and/or presenting them to their advantage is reality to many politicians – part of the cut and thrust of daily life. In their minds, it’s the norm, the way things are done and many now believe that they can lie with impunity. Until they recognise that telling the truth really is the right thing to do, nothing will change.
Not only have some of our MPs degraded British politics and the honour and integrity of our supposedly democratic system, they have also let down very badly the people that they were elected to represent. This government has become a by word for sleaze, corruption, distortion of the facts, false promises, greed, avarice... you name it, they've done it.
A General Election is need more now than any other time in recent history to clear out the system, implement new rules of governance and sew some seeds of hope for the future. The electorate has been sidelined for too long by this government but the clock is ticking and we will have our say. We need a government elected by the people for the people that represents the people.
Any feedback and comments are always welcome!!