A one-sided demand for transparency?

Guy Fawkes - the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.

Old Anarchist joke: Guy Fawkes - the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.

Two weeks ago, Internet campaigners made a decisive intervention on what was, as far as the media were concerned, a big story.

Perhaps the most prominent single political blogger in the UK – Guido Fawkes – was followed by perhaps the leading alliance of hacktivists MySociety in demanding that MPs desist from exempting themselves from the full disclosure rules in the Freedom of Information Act.

One rule for them?

As far as I can see, this is an oddly directed campaign. There is one strong argument in it’s favour:

  • If Parliament imposes Freedom of Information rules on other areas of government and failed to make the case for Parliamentary Privileges at the time of the original drafting, it looks foolish to try and wriggle out of the obligations respectively – and it damages Parliament’s reputation to do so.

The other arguments are, I think, a good deal weaker.

An effective way to ‘clean up Parliament?’

Will it stem corruption? I don’t think so. Most of the recent scandals have been to do with the choice of staff who have been employed and what they do. Disclosing receipts won’t deal with that. Continue reading


MPs websites – politics on the rates?

As there are a couple of good posts in the mainstream political blogosphere touching upon the qualities that are needed to promote an effective representative democracy, today is a good day to start a blog on the subject. This post will focus on the most topical:

Both Puffbox and Spartakan are chewing over the fact that Labour MP Paul Flynn has had his parliamentary allowance docked for misuse of the weblog that he has established under that same allowance.

This scheme was set up in March 2007 with the express purpose of promoting a public understanding of Parliament. To my mind, it raises a number of questions that I will seek to answer here over the coming weeks and months. They are as follows:

  1. Do we over-fetishise political neutrality? Are the rules that preclude politicians from doing politics on the rates entirely sensible in this day-and-age? And do rules that are designed to stop this from happening actually pander to a highly anti-democratic and centralising agenda?
  2. Is this the old ‘Eunuch in a harem’ problem? Is there not something slightly distorted about going to people who are morbidly, obsessively and fanatically political people and saying “here is a budget that you can use to communicate with millions of people with an efficiency that you wouldn’t previously have dreamed of – as long as you don’t use it for political purposes?
  3. If you give an elected representative tools to communicate politically, are you necessarily giving them a political advantage? The public are increasingly turned off by political huckstering, yet politicians seem oddly keen to do it. Giving them the space to do it really effectively a bit like giving them a shorter rope and a longer drop?

I will return to these questions shortly – particularly the first one.