Saturday, 18 July 2015

Democracy, Freedom of Information and the authoritarians

Perhaps ironically, the day that Murdoch's vilest organ produces a picture of the current monarch being trained in giving a Nazi salute as a child, for no apparent reason other than mischief-making and as a reminder that the real power-mongers are not to be trifled with, is the day on which reaction should commence to the latest assaults on democracy, freedom and accountability.

The Blair years were not noted for their approach to freedom - preferring a moralistic theocratic adulation of all things Bush and neo-conservative, but had inherited opposition pledges of accountability through Freedom of Information - bringing government decisions to account and enabling, with a degree of intellect and persistent, the citizen to find out at least some of the idiocies, corruption and incompetence that characterise much public administration.  An inconvenient truth is that opposition always craves more information, whereas when in power the aim is to restrict and redact.

With so much government outsourced to a bunch of motley cronies, FOI itself is much more important than it was when the first legislation appeared.  To be able to scrutinise contracts and the interactions between authorities and their opposite numbers, including the porosity between the contractor and the delivery agent, is fundamental.  It is not just about the formation of policy but also about the operation of public administration.

When this is added to the recent revelations that, despite a conclusive vote of MPs under the Coalition, British service personnel have been used in combat in Syria - without further consent or discussion, alongside the persistent and honourable battle to unearth the undue influence of the Prince of Wales on political activity, then the need for more rather than less disclosure becomes compelling. Where there is no accountability or transparency, then there is much more possibility of politicians getting away with the kind of sharp practice that undermines any residual trust in the process.

Alongside the potential further erosion of citizen freedoms, it was amusing to note that the idea that the UK's constitutional future should be left to a Joint Committee of the unelected Lords and the undemocratic Commons has traction amongst Tory grandees.  The sheer stupidity of the current situation, caused by Cameron's idiotic panic and grandstanding around the Scottish independence referendum, should make it clear to almost anyone with a brain (clearly this excludes Lord Forsyth and many of the commentators) that a long-term, stable solution needs a non-partisan, expert approach.  There is already a process available through a Royal Commission, but this would not be manipulable in the way that the reactionaries require.

Within two months of Cameron and his paymasters being given more power, we are watching the return of the patrician, contemptuous Tory party.  Add to this many of the statists in Labour, who are coalescing around authoritarianism given their compliance in incompetence, and there is a clear need for the anti-authoritarian, radical tendencies to articulate their contempt and derision for the process.  For every technical change required in FOI, which may well be the case, the Tories will try to sneak through further reduction in the ability of citizens to scrutinise and challenge the corruption of government.  The break-up of the UK is accelerated through the aim of excluding the views of either the little people or the reformers.  Time for a politics of insurgency.

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