Saturday, 22 August 2015

Accountable to no-one? Why citizens should revolt

Much of the current incompetence and arrogance in government can be laid at the feet of the evil twins of Thatcher and Blair.  The subversion of accountability and citizen rights has been ongoing for the last thirty-five years, exacerbated by the elevation of private capital and profit-skimming by government cronies throughout the process of administration.  What was amusing in Yes, Minister has become a Kafkaesque nightmare for even the most articulate and informed citizen.

One of the earliest lessons learned by any of the third-rate incompetents who pervade local and central government is to dispose of the most difficult issues at the time of defining the issue.  The passage of the Freedom of Information Act under the last Labour Government was a positive step, but the opacity and occult nature of most decision-making and public authority behaviours, and the restrictions around which FOI is based, make it difficult if not impossible to define the correct questions to extract information that reasonable people should be entitled to.  As a discriminatory process against those without the time, patience or the scheming mindset to second-guess the ghoulish parasites this is sans pareil.

Central government (both UK-wide and devolved nations) has tended to be slightly more rigorous in its application to accountability, principally because there remains a small number of investigative resources that hold it to account.  The emasculation of local government's powers, the privatisation and outsourcing of essential services and the decline of conventional media means that it is purely fortuitous where citizen accountability shines a light on the pile of foetid dung that usually indicates the presence of local councillors and their fourth-rate officials.

Once the stink emerges, it is often impossible to challenge or even understand the rationale behind the process by which decisions are made.  Be it the bunging of cash to mates to run a Cameron-inspired free school, the sale of land to cronies to push forward development proposals that run counter both to published policies and the platforms on which the charlatans have sought election, to petty incompetence on a routine basis, the concerned citizen has very few opportunities to challenge. 

The statistics for the Local Government Ombudsman, set up by the Local Government Act in 1974 to provide some form of citizen redress, suggest that it is not toothless, nor had its mouth sewn up but has no desire even to do anything beyond provide a fig-leaf for venality, incompetence, maladministration and worse through distraction tactics - probably because many of its scions are brought in from local government, rather than actually capable of investigating and exposing.  This repeats itself throughout the escalation and scrutiny process across the whole field of government activity - it protects and it deflects rather than allowing citizens to challenge.  Paradoxically this makes the entire process even more compromised, as the rational tendency, based around inductive reasoning and observation, is to assume that the whole system has been corrupted.

Insurgency in politics may start redressing this balance.   Leaving aside the need for a constitutional settlement based on the individual citizen rather than the magnanimity of feudal relics, the left needs to start defining an agenda which holds both officials and bodies to direct scrutiny.  If decisions are dubious and made by fourth-rate and fifth-rate underpaid and overworked staff, then there will be more injustice and more mistakes made.  Starting with local government, where there are more poor officials and more bizarre and unnatural relationships hidden from view, this should flow out to all services used by the citizen.  Officials who are incompetent and maladminister, secure in the knowledge that the process of winkling out their malfeasance is so difficult, need to be on their guard - as do their managers and the elected members who rubber-stamp their misbehaviour.

One of the opportunities for the new radicalism has to be to redirect anger from the frustration of the victim to the desire for restitution.  This requires public accountability - and this may require the renegotiation of outsourced contracts to mirror exactly what would be required from a directly-controlled service or their prejudicial termination if the incompetent, skimming leeches refuse to be prised loose.  When councillors were volunteers, rather than paid, they had some excuse for being amateurish in their approach, but now they should be held to account and subject to financial penalty for the misdeeds of those who are contracted by them to deliver services - no different to any other group administering and spending other people's money.

The challenge for this is that it undermines the mindset of the inadequate and the arrogant.  The rest of us are little people, either not in the right clubs, Lodge or union, or too poor to be considered - and the psychological flaws of many local government officials would take many years to dissect.  The snouts and the stupidity (particularly in many of the single-party administrations that a non-democratic electoral system presents) are entrenched, and removing their fingers from the tills and the liferafts may take more than mere exhortation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for the left to co-operate at a local level before stepping forward to a constitutional revolution at the next General Election - I can but dream.

Eventually incompetence meeting impotence will result in an explosion.  When that happens, the important thing is to be on the side of those challenging the cosy corruption and incompetence that seems to have become entrenched since "business" and buzzwords replaced the centrality of citizen rights and accountability as the basis on which we are ruled.

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