19th June 2021
Here is a challenge.
Think of a normal, day-to-day process of the United Kingdom state.
And then try to think of examples when that process has succeeded in holding the state accountable – that is against the government’s wishes.
It is not easy.
Freedom of information is impotent.
The public services ombudsman is inefficient (at best).
Debates on the floor of the house of commons – and ‘opposition days’ – provide little more than Westminster theatre.
The prime minister casually lies at the weekly set-piece of political accountability, without any sanction or shame.
Written parliamentary questions take an age to be answered – and the answers given are often useless.
Government press offices are expensive exercises in not providing any help other than to the careers of those who staff them.
The only exception is that, from time to time, a parliamentary select committee can publish a report that hits through – though this often is down to the capabilities and qualities of whichever clerks work for the committee, than to the MPs and peers which formally comprise the committee’s membership.
And so because the normal processes of the state are generally so weak that we end up with ad hoc processes such as inquires and court cases to force the state into accounting for its actions (and inactions) against its will.
Think here of the post office scandal litigation, and think of the Hillsborough and Daniel Morgan panels.
And there are other examples.
(And imagine how many examples there are where there have not been such determined campaigners dedicated in getting at the truth.)
Ad hoc exercises in practical accountability such as court cases and panel inquiries are, however, often undermined (as this blog averred yesterday) by a legal inability to force disclosure against the state’s will or interests.
And each success in forcing accountability by means of a court case or an inquiry usually has equal and opposite significance as an example of failure of the institutions of the state to have held other parts of the state properly accountable in the first place.
In particular: the failure of parliament to be an effective check on the executive.
There is a severe accountability gap in the state of the United Kingdom.
And it is from this gap so many other political problems emerge.
Please help this blog address the accountability gap.
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