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

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Adversarial politics, transparency and independence – some questions.

Ding Dong! An argument can draw crowds. But can it solve anything?

Ding Dong! An argument can draw crowds. But can it solve anything?

Here’s a good post from an Australian blogger on the question: Is adversarial politics damaging to our democracy? (It’s actually an update on a previous post with that title). Here the adversarialism is opposed by a more attractive ‘deliberative’ model of the kind advocated here. The flipside of this argument is put very well by Peter Levine here:

“As I told the Christian Science Monitor in 2006, “Polarization tends to be a mobilizing factor in getting out the vote.” At CIRCLE, we helped to organize randomized experiments of voter outreach with the goal that the parties would learn new techniques and compete more effectively for our target population (youth). I believe we and our colleagues had some influence on the parties and thereby helped boost turnout. We also funded a study that found that parties were under-investing in their young members. Again, our goal was to persuade them to become more effective.”

There is, of course, the adversarial politics of Parliament and the media that we are all familiar with. These arguments are fairly well played out, though they are always worth revisiting. The obvious conclusion, for me is a somewhat muddy preference for a bit-of-both.

However, there is the often-overlooked challenge of adversarial legalism’ towards a supposedly ‘elite-dominated’ form of representative democracy in which various minority groups seek to take a role in the political process using courts to secure rights that protect individuals and minorities. Continue reading