Antony Jay, who together with Jonathan Lynn, wrote Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister has an article in today's Daily Telegraph. With the inherent eye of the humourist, able to get straight to the heart of a subject, he so ably demonstrates what is wrong in British politics today. Some extracts:
" The minister’s declared motivation is to serve the voters, to satisfy their hopes and aspirations, at whatever personal sacrifice. His real motivation is to get promoted, to get re-elected, to burnish his own and the government’s image. The civil servant’s declared motivation is to carry out the wishes of the government efficiently, economically and impartially, working conscientiously and tirelessly to turn ministers’ policies into just, beneficial and workable laws. Their real motivation is to raise their personal status, to enhance the importance of their department, to avoid blame, to gain credit, to minimise work, to resist change, and to retire with an index-linked pension, a knighthood and the chairmanship of a couple of quangos and a seat on the board of a blue-chip company........Secrecy is the key: secrecy, which required concealment, deception and dissimulation. It is not helpful to take a moral view about this, because it is in the nature of all institutions. From time to time, believers in open democratic government try to make institutional decision-making take place in public, but all that happens is that the meetings become campaigning platforms and the decisions are taken privately, behind closed doors, before the meeting. How else did the European Union come to Thursday’s discussion about its new President and Foreign Secretary?"
"It was said many years ago that laws are like sausages – if you want to retain your approval of them, you don’t want to watch them being made. Political parties and government departments are institutions, and it is in the nature of institutions to develop over the years their own cultures and their own moral systems, which are rarely completely in tune with the wider world; from time to time it becomes clear that national institutions – the police, the army, social services departments – have their private value systems and moral codes which are different in certain respects from those of their fellow citizens. Indeed, it has recently become clear that the institution of Parliament has a moral code for expense claims that it does not share with the rest of us."
"The reality, of course, is the exact opposite; the permanent secretary has been in the department for 30 years, while the minister is an arriviste, a complete novice, and entirely dependent on his civil servants........The BBC was officially run by a board of governors, who were very like the Cabinet: they came in from outside, for just a few years, and knew virtually nothing about the business of broadcasting. We viewed them with a dismissive contempt, and paid no attention whatsoever to their public pronouncements......."
"What I learned was that so-called public service organisations see their overriding purpose not as serving the public but as surviving and prospering........There is a permanent conflict between public institutions and democracy. Democracy requires information and control; institutions require secrecy and independence. Jefferson wrote in 1788: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground” and that, in an increasingly institutionalised and globalised world, is happening......."
So how do we resolve the problems, as exemplified by Antony Jay? Firstly, we need politicians who are qualified, understand their brief and have some experience of that brief; politicians who truly believe that country comes before party; as a result of which, politicians who will forego personal advancement but just wish to to the best for the country; probably more importantly leaders of political parties who think likewise, who are prepared to debate, publicly, with the electors when it appears their beliefs are contrary to public opinion (eg David Cameron and membership of the EU) and, possibly above all else, politicians who have a sense of morality and principle. It is also extremely important that the electors have the ability to recall MPs with whom it is felt are not representing their constituents views.
On the secrecy aspect - perhaps all organisations that are funded by public money need to be subject to Freedom of Information requests, something that is not the case with, for instance, housing associations, perhaps all such public bodies should, as a matter of course, publish accounts on line. Another good move would be to end the sham 'consultation' processes which presently take place. The 'consultation' that actually takes place is meaningless in that the end-users views are sought and then promptly ignored. But hey, they have 'consulted' so that ticks that box!
In respect of the Civil Service, perhaps a start would be to banish all 'spin' doctors from Government ministerial departments, from Ministers themselves, and from Civil Service departments - in other words, to de-politicise the Civil Service.
In order to regain the true form of democracy that is needed, on the political front the cure is relatively easy - we, the electorate, only agree to vote for those Prospective Parliamentary Candidates who agree to the pledge that the Albion Alliance are promoting and who also agree to implement those policies encapsulated in 'The Plan'.
The present incumbents of Parliament endlessly talk about their wish to 'clean up politics'. Unfortunately it is not up to the politicians to cleanse their own house - it is up to us, the electorate!