Tag Archive | "public servants"

Gutter Politics in the UK

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Gutter Politics in the UK


There has been much written about the Damian McBride debacle, but I have to admit, the only thing that surprises me is that people are themselves surprised. When Gordon Brown was Chancellor, it was well known that his henchmen would often brief against anyone that was not firmly in the Brown camp. In fact, I am sure some journalists made their reputation off the back of such gossip and rumour. To find that GB still has people that are prepared to go to any lengths to promote and protect their boss comes as no surprise. Furthermore, to have them planning an attack on the opposition in advance of an election is also par for the course, even if it is normally a little more subtle. The so called Westminster Village survives on gossip, innuendo, character assassinations and leaks! However, I guess the only difference this time, is that what happens in political circles has become public and, of course, for the most part, the standards of the general public are much, much higher than those who are elected to represent us.

Truth be told, there are very few ‘investigative journalists’ nowadays, instead they rely on briefings and leaks. Deals are done all the time, with very few exceptions, we read what the politicians want us to, not what the journalists uncover. One positive outcome of this latest fiasco is that ordinary people will start to realise that there is an alternative to the dead tree press. Yes, the blogosphere is in its infancy, but it is getting better all the time and it is much more difficult to silence or influence.

New Labour tell us that there must be “no reward for failure”, yet these hypocrites have rewarded failed politicians with plum jobs in Europe (and elsewhere) and on occasion, even rewarded these wayward, but loyal subjects with a peerage. This is because there is one rule for them and their minions, with another for the rest of us.

Take their generous allowances. The clue is in the name! They are not expenses, they are allowances, therefore MP’s of all parties see them as a right. As a consequence, they maximise their income by claiming for whatever they can, meanwhile, from a tax perspective, they are not subject to the same rules as the rest of us. Because, in the private sector, HMRC would treat the vast majority of these allowances as a benefit in kind and they would be taxed as such. What about pensions? The private sector has seen some 70% of final salary pension schemes shut down or closed to new members, meanwhile, our MP’s continue to benefit from what has been described as on of the best pension schemes in the world.

Power corrupts, that is a fact and it happens in politics as much as anywhere else. I do not mean that people necessarily take backhanders, but their morals seem to change. Power to many means that they can get away with things that other mere mortals cannot. It is this that ultimately corrupts. I am sure, for example, that there are many people that entered politics with the very best intentions, but look at them now. Not all, but most have their snouts in the trough, instead of questioning why such generous expense allowances are made available, they have simply claimed them. Instead of asking why MP’s should receive pensions so much better than people in the private sector, they have voted to keep the pension scheme unchanged. The longer they have been MP’s or, the higher up the food chain they go, the more arrogant, self-assured and unpleasant they get. One reason for this is the way people bow and scrape to gain favour, this makes our MP’s feel powerful, invincible even and self-obsessed. They start to believe their own publicity.

As if to confirm that MP’s know they are making mistakes and could eventually face civil or criminal charges because of their actions, there is a new Bill, due for its 2nd reading on the 24th April that seeks to offer a legal ‘get out of jail free’  card. A Conservative MP has introduced a bill designed to provide all public servants, including MP’s, with a legal defence of ‘reasonable discretion’. In other words if they can legitimately claim that they exercised reasonable discretion, this would be an acceptable defence. For example, if an MP was told, incorrectly or otherwise, by a civil servant, that it was okay to claim certain allowances, he would have a strong defence by claiming he had shown reasonable discretion by consulting an official. In return the civil servant, who would benefit from the same protection, can argue that he acted in good faith because he merely followed the established precedent. Similarly, if this country were taken to war, based on ‘questionable’ intelligence, provided the Ministers can demonstrate that they exercised reasonable discretion, they cannot be held legally accountable for their actions.

The Exercise of Reasonable Discretion Bill is a clear indication that there is an ever-increasing gulf between the electorate and the people elected to serve us. If this Bill is passed into law, no MP and no civil servant will ever be held accountable for their actions unless there is a demonstrable case of negligence. We have already seen in the past few weeks how power corrupts, we must never allow politicians to then benefit from an Act that would provide them with immunity from prosecution. This will encourage recklessness in the same way that Diplomatic Immunity encourages foreign diplomats to ignore our traffic laws.

SPREAD THE WORD:

A Conservative MP is seeking a second reading for a new Bill, titled ‘Exercise of Reasonable Discretion’. If passed into law, this will allow every public servant, including MP, civil servants, local government officers, the police etc., a legal defence of ‘reasonable discretion’ in any civil or criminal case brought about as a consequence of their actions. All they would have to prove, is that they acted in good faith, this as anyone in the know will understand, is a catch-all defence.

In essence, it could allow MP’s to argue that they made certain decisions, such as going to war, based on advice where they were required to use reasonable discretion, officials entering into multi-million pound contracts which are subsequently cancelled or overrun, will also be able to claim that they exercised reasonable discretion. It is effectively a get out of jail free card for any public servant. Effectively removing accountability and increasing risk, because of course, if there is no effective punishment, there is no need to be careful. We should all shout as loud as we can to ensure that this type of legislation never sees the light of day.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour | Comments (2)

MP’s seek immunity from prosecution

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MP’s seek immunity from prosecution


If evidence was needed that members of parliament fear a public backlash, here it is, in the form of a new Bill, Exercise of Reasonable Discretion Bill 2008-09, which is due to get a second reading on the 24th April 2009. Below is a summary of what the Bill sets out to achieve;

The Bill aims to ensure that public authorities and public servants would not be subject to any criminal or civil penalty as a result of the exercise of reasonable discretion in the performance of their functions. Its provisions would cover public authorities, public servants and contracts for public services. The term public authority is defined by the Bill and includes the NHS, the police, local and central and devolved Government and non-departmental public bodies. The formal intent of the Bill is to indemnify public servants, central government, local government and other public agencies from legal action if they take decisions in good faith, as a result of the exercise of reasonable discretion, in the public interest.

In other words, MP’s amongst other public servants which include the Police, local officials and even the NHS, will be able to claim that in effect they acted in good faith, or in the words of the Bill, exercised ‘reasonable discretion’. Any lawyer will tell you that such a defence is subjective, therefore it offer enormous scope for any public servant (including, of course, MP’s) seeking to defend their actions.

So, hypothetically, any Minister taking this country to war on dubious grounds could claim that they had exercised ‘reasonable discretion’ by, for example, commissioning a security assessment of the threat to this country. The information they act on does not have to be factually correct, so long as the Ministers can claim that they acted in good faith. The public would have no right of criminal or civil recourse. No longer will public servants be accountable to the public…and this is a democracy?

Reasonable discretion is defined as being either, in the public interest or in the performance of their functions, in other words, it covers everything. The Bill seeks to include cover for all civil servants (and of course Ministers), for any mistakes they have made related to contracts for public services. Therefore, the civil servants responsible for ordering the new NHS database, which was originally budgeted to cost £2.3bn, has now spiralled to £12bn and is expected to result in a total bill of £32bn, will be able to claim that they exercised reasonable discretion.

What about the Department of Work and Pensions where officials wasted £300m on two cancelled IT projects In 5 years the DWP managed to spend £2.14bn on IT projects, both ongoing and cancelled, with over £500m going to consultants alone. Was reasonable discretion exercised? You decide, because it is unlikely the courts could do anything about it.

Would a Police officer be able to argue that he or she exercised reasonable discretion when they shoot an innocent bystander? Or could a Doctor claim that he or she exercised reasonable discretion when they removed the kidneys of a patient because they pick-up the wrong patients notes? Remember, there is no right of criminal OR civil recourse. Will this prevent people from suing the NHS and/or Doctors for criminal negligence?

This legislation is a danger to all of us, given it is a Rogues Charter that seeks to protect all public servants from accountability to the people they are supposed to serve or represent. It is, perhaps, the most draconian and self-serving legislation ever devised by our parliament. Worst of all, it prevents the public from taking any action (civil or criminal) against MP’s or Ministers, because in virtually every instance, other than a direct and proven lie, they will be able to claim they had exercised reasonable discretion. In fact, even in their lied, they could claim that they did so ‘in the public interest’.

I would urge all fellow bloggers with an interest in justice to use their blogs to publicise this outrageous attempt provide public servants, especially MP’s with a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If this legislation gets through, as it undoubtedly will, then no public servant can truly be held accountable to the public, because a ‘good faith’ defence will always be available!

Posted in Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (23)

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