Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Open Government; Closed Minds?

Forget the questions about the warrant. Forget about the accusations of grooming. Forget about the questions surrounding the use of anti-terrorist officers and a heavy-handed approach. The BBC has already covered all that!

Let's just focus on the somewhat ideological debate surrounding the Damian Green affair this week.

Here is a man arrested for gaining information about government policy from a government insider. In times gone by, that insider would have been hailed as a hero to democracy, a beacon of transparency in a corrupt society.

But this week Christopher Galley was suspended from the Home Office for passing important information on to the opposition.

It has been said this week that Green's arrest shows how undemocratic we really are. This is a man arrested for daring to receive and eventually reveal government scandal. How on earth can we look so disparagingly at regimes like Mugabe's when we ourselves are part of a Big Brother state where the government-controlled police can search an opposition spokesman's office, before arresting him and locking him up for a whole nine hours and all this without a warrant? I know, it's shameful really isn't it!

Let's look at it another way.

Where would we be if every foolish e-mail sent between civil servants over the course of a boring, monotonous day in the office had the explosive potential to bring down the government? How much time would any party be afforded to start work on the manifesto that got it elected (democratically)? How much continuity could we expect from year to year, from month to month, from day to day? We'd be in quite a mess really wouldn't we, quite lost? A bit like an LCO.

Scrutiny of government is key to any democracy. The role played here by the opposition parties and also by the press is as pivotal to the way our society functions as that entrusted to the government of the day. But there is a need for a certain amount of discretion and privacy. No organisation can ever hope to be in a position where it can act wholly openly and still hope to be successful all the time.

How often are we told that what happens in the dressing room at half-time, stays in the dressing room? And how often have we seen a team come out fighting in the second half to claim the spoils, only to be left wondering what on earth the manager might have said during the interval, but knowing full-well that such information will never see the light of day?

Not that we care by then because we are all too busy basking in the joy of an improbable come-back. Or at least something VAT cuts!

Dewi Dau


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