Thursday, June 19, 2008

Relative penalisation

I've been mildly critical of the They Work For You project in the past. It's always hard to make the case against more transparency for MPs (because, surely they should tell us what they're doing, shouldn't they?). And TWFY is an ingenious piece of audacity that his hard to fault.

I suppose that the strongest point to make in defence of my position here is to point to the comparative opacity of MP's rivals. Take Tom's point about fund managers (one of many on his blog - it prompted this post now).

And how about a gynecological-standard of forensics on pressure groups and lobbying firms? And advertising agencies? And 'reputation management' companies? And who could forget journalists? Surely we should be told how much advertisers are paying newspapers - so that we can understand how far journalists are being boundaried by their proprietors?

And Think Tanks. Where are they coming from, and why? Follow the money and find out! Oh - you can't! No-one as built a WeThinkForYou.org website yet - and there isn't any data for it to scrape in the way that TWFY scrapes Hansard.

And what about those submissions to public consultations? I've just finished writing one to OfCOM outlining a position that is, I believe, plainly in the public interest. I don't mix work and blogging, so I'll not go into it here. But I do know that a public-interest position will always be trumped by an impeccably researched, carefully argued, heavily pre-spun, beautifully presented response from a commercial lobby.

So, should commercial lobbies be obliged to name all of the researchers that they use, and detail the amount of money that they've spent on their response? I think they should. And you're right to laugh at me for thinking that it's possible.

MPs get scrutinised because they are scrutinisable. Every time we demand more scrutiny of MPs while not expecting commensurate transparency from elsewhere, we are undermining parliamentary democracy. We are offering a relative promotion to MPs rivals.

While I'm on the subject, I wish I wish I wish I could find a recording of a BBC Radio programme (one Saturday or Sunday night a few months ago) where the decision to broadcast Parliament was evaluated.

It's conclusion was that all of broadcasting's opponents worst fears were realised (along with many fears that hadn't occured to them at the time) .....

3 comments:

Matt M said...

Commercial/independent bodies aren't funded through taxation though. Nor do they have the power to create laws. The fact that MPs are and do means that the general public are far more interested in what their activities.

I would be far more inclined to trust and buy a newspaper that revealed exactly how much it was getting from advertisers though.

Tom P said...

actually on the subject of fund managers there is a bit of an overlap with politicians. Fidelity is in bed with the Tories in a big way (rather annoying as I had my ISA with them).

On our side David Pitt Watson just about still works for Hermes, but Hermes itself doesn't have a political alignment.

A while ago I did explore whether it would be possible to build a database for pension fund trustees that would enable them to access information on service providers about this kind of thing, but couldn't get the money together or the support to do it.

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