*** Update – the Woolas decision ***
I wonder if I’m the only one feeling a little troubled by Courts getting involved in elections. Who’s to say where this particular line will end up being drawn?
All the parties, for example, entered the election knowing that severe public spending cuts were coming but each went out of their way to avoid talking about it. All sorts of pledges were made by politicians seeking our vote. We have seen that these have turned out to be worthless.
Some politicians apparently privately changed their minds about key parts of their own manifestos but didn’t feel that was something they should share with us before we voted.
Mr Woolas has been accused and found guilty of telling voters falsehoods about his opponents. So I am wondering where electors go to find a remedy to deal with politicians that told falsehoods about themselves?
Now that would be a busy court.
Here’s the orginal post in full.
The world used to be such a simple place. Fact was fact. Fiction, fiction. But now we have faction, docudrama, drama-documentary, reality TV and U571. No, that’s not a satellite TV channel it was a film about rugged and courageous US submariners capturing an Enigma coding machine from a stricken U-boat in World War II. Not a good film and rubbish history.
Why do I mention it? Well, it’s because I’m beginning to feel slightly old-fashioned in believing truthfulness is an important attribute of a healthy public life. It does not feel to me that this is a belief widely shared by important parts of our civil society. Indeed a new government felt the need to set up a new quango, the Office of Budget Responsibility, because it believed (probably rightly) that few believe politicians to be truthful and that what they say can be trusted.
Being on the inside of the deficit reduction story and talking with colleagues from organisations affected by it I am constantly struck by their anger about the portrayal of public servants and public service in the media. We’re wasteful, lazy and incompetent. Our organisations are bloated, mis-managed or have lost their way. Terms and conditions are gold-plated, feather-bedded or simply an outrage.
The excellent We Love Local Government has already talked about Channel 4’s ‘exposure’ of local government waste on Tuesday night. I can only echo their comments and add that this was pretty lame stuff.
Many papers had screaming headlines yesterday about more wasting of public money by the Audit Commission. Beneath the headlines it seems it spent some money training its staff, put them up at hotels when they had to stay away from home and even paid for grass to be cut at one of its offices.
What I was interested to notice however was the reference in many of these Audit Commission stories to ‘staff junkets at the races’. Now I thought I recalled from an earlier round of this story that these ‘junkets’ were in fact the use of meeting rooms on non-race days for technical training of local councils’.
Not being a highly trained investigative reporter from one of these papers I had a quick look at the earlier story again via google. I discovered a letter still on the Commission’s website that explains what the racecourse spending was all about. Guess what? Yes, my recollection was just about spot on.
So the reuse of that phrase in today’s stories clearly means one of a small number of possibilities.
1) The Audit Commission’s denial has been proven by further research to be itself a lie.
2) The authors’ of today’s pieces had missed the denial somehow.
3) The authors’ of today’s pieces had seen the denial and didn’t care.
Or more simply. The Commission is a liar or the reporters are not very good at their job or the reporters are uninterested in being truthful.
It seems to many of us in public service that too much of the debate about the work we do and the people we are is dominated by the same principle adopted by many of us when abroad. IF WE REPEAT SOMETHING OFTEN ENOUGH AND LOUD ENOUGH IT IS BOUND TO STICK.
But simply repeating something does not make it true. Despite my constant repetition of the refrain, ‘I am tall, dark and handsome,’ I remain resolutely something else.
I suppose you could be charitable and put this lack of connectedness to accuracy down to cock-up rather than conspiracy. But I was intrigued by something an old friend who has made a big success of life in the private sector said to me the other day when we were talking about how the public sector’s reputation is in the bin.
He said that he thought all the language and the stories betrayed a simple truth. Politicians, he said, dislike public servants for the same reason that he dislikes his first wife. She knows too much about him. And that makes him profoundly uneasy. Public servants know where public spending ‘bodies’ are buried. But unlike his ex-wife public servants are too honourable (or cowed) to do any exhumation.
He and I compared our list of the top five wastes of public money during our careers. The lists were near identical but that was not the most revealing thing. Each of them had been driven by politicians on a point of principle rather than evidence. And each cost a tiny bit more than mowing a lawn.
But most of the people we serve don’t have the hands-on knowledge my friend has. So we’re stuck with an increasingly rancid reputation fostered for reasons that do not seem entirely straightforward. And a lot of our fellow citizens believe what they read, hear and see. In a truthful society why wouldn’t they?