Fringe Box



Letter: Governments Must Be Accountable

Published on: 18 Jun, 2024
Updated on: 19 Jun, 2024

From: Ben Paton

In response to: I Do Question the Claim That Brexit Is Has Been a Disaster

A member of the public asked at BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions this week what would be the ‘Just One Thing’ panel members would change to address the UK’s problems.

My answer would be to make HM Government accountable.

Accountability is one of the seven Nolan Principles for those in public life

It is a myth that government is currently accountable. This is very well explained by academic research into the way the country is governed. The Blunders of our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe analyses this. While in theory ministers are accountable to the House of Commons for the actions of their departments; in practice this is simply not true, as King and Crewe explain in detail in their book.

What is the evidence for the proposition that government is unaccountable? We see it the whole time at local level at Guildford Borough Council. Take the 2019 Local Plan and North Street  developments or applications approved by the Planning Inspectorate over the heads of locally elected representatives and local residents, eg Solum’s redevelopment of the railway station and Three Farms Meadows (aka the former Wisley Airfield). And take the way the Housing Revenue Account business has been handled.

More egregious still are calamities like the Post Office scandal, the Infected Blood scandal, the Grenfell Tower scandal, the scandal of 140,000 children in care. Listen to what Kenneth Clarke, a former Health Minister and Chancellor, says about the blood scandal: ‘nothing to do with me’. Listen to his insulting comments about Nimbys.

It is frustration at this lack of accountability that made a majority vote to leave the EU. They voted that way because the EU is even less accountable than the UK Parliament, which says a lot.

Of course we should be as close as possible to the EU. But should we be able to make our own laws and to make our politicians accountable to us? That’s what people voted for and why they bother to vote at all. Brexit makes that accountability more possible not less. Does it work well? Not very. But at least we now have the power to do something about it.

Sir Humphrey Appelby is an unaccountable Mandarin. I bet he voted to stay in the EU. He needs to be made accountable to us.

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