Sunday, November 30, 2008

How far is it defensible to have a 'mole' in a government department?

I would have thought that the combined forces of the commentariat would have been a bit more firm on this one over the past few days?

On economic issues, for instance, there there is a overwhelming need for clarity, consistency and decisiveness (i.e. you avoid financial speculation by ensuring that you don't hint you are going to do things - you just do them).

There is a suggestion that the Conservative Party are making this impossible to do, and that they have been pre-announcing variations on government policy in order to obtain a 'we thought of it first' party political advantage. This is not a trivial issue. It's a massive one. Why is no-one saying this?

And while liberals have been rightly outraged at the lack of deference to parliamentary privileges, let us also acknowledge that Damian Green's mole seems to have been actively disrupting what is, objectively, the most liberal immigration policy that the UK has ever had.

The first two of the four leaks listed here were specifically leaked in order to force the government to clamp down upon immigration and to more to identify and track people without UK citizenship.

Leak 3 & 4 were designed purely to embarrass a Labour Minister.

The Tories are not, I think, arguing for totally open government? All correspondence and e-mails between ministers to be placed immediately in the public domain? Politicians sometimes have to conduct unpopular elements of their policy privately in order to have results that they can defend at the next election?

This seems to me to be one of the bedrocks of Representative Democracy. In a Direct Democracy, all decisions would, indeed, be conducted with this level of openness. The Freedom of Information act seems to have led to more official circumspection and it seems to have driven thoughtfulness from the record as it is.

In an odd way, this is what is at stake in the Damian Green investigation. We are right to ask if current police powers should be able to survive this investigation. But can the Freedom of Information Act survive it either? Is it not time to allow government ministers the ability to discuss matters and reach decisions in private?

Will Parliament start defending itself from the tabloid agenda for the first time in years?

The word 'totalitarianism' has been bandied around a fair bit in the last few days. From a systemic point of view, the worst aspect of totalitarianism is where legislators are answerable to a thought police. In the UK, the state is not the only force that can punish politicians for thinking aloud....

Update: Owen has a significantly different perspective to mine here, including a good bit of argumentation around the the FOI issue. More on this in due course, perhaps? Owen is arguing against a really good, densely argued post by his father that puts me straight on quite a few issues here. Hat tip: S&M

1 comment:

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