Thursday, February 02, 2012

Who cares?

"There's a new mood in Parliament", writes Raedwald , who is commenting on a piece in the Failygraph on civil service powers and responsibilities. "Reform is on the wind. MPs are feeling their breeches for the first time in many years. The mandarinate may have a shock coming".

The Failygraph story is about the row developing over Margaret Hodge, as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and her treatment of civil servants, culminating in a letter of protest from former head of the civil service, Gus O'Donnell. Thus we are told:
The row has been brewing for some time. Last November, Mrs Hodge and her committee tore into Anthony Inglese, a top lawyer at HM Revenue and Customs. Asked whom he answered to as a civil servant, Inglese said mildly that he was accountable to his department. "No, you're not", retorted Mrs Hodge. "You're accountable to Parliament". She ordered Inglese to give the rest of his evidence on oath, warning him that he risked perjury if he gave incorrect answers. His request for "a minute’s time out" to consider was refused.
But the natural response to this is: "who cares"? The bulk of our power has been outsourced to Brussels, where the "colleagues" certainly are not accountable to parliament. This is a fight between two bald men over a comb.

Even if it were the case that the fight had meaning, and parliament emerged the winner, how does that serve us. Residual authority in this country resides not with parliament, but the executive, which has at its beck and call a payroll vote which keeps it in office.

Thus the cock may win the battle of the dunghill, but in the corner of the barn, farmer Dave sharpens the knives and selects the Sunday lunch.

On a broader scale, who of the bald men who emerges victorious, taking possession of the comb, has any relevance to us. Parliament could indeed win, but who does parliament represent? It certainly isn't me, or anything I could identify with for that matter. Largely, it seems to represent itself and its own interests.

In many senses, therefore, this is "smoke and mirrors", or "bread and circuses" if you prefer – without the bread and without the circuses. In short, it is an irrelevance – a distraction. Watching other people fight for power, when either way the power ends up in the wrong hands, is not a profitable occupation.

Those who believe in democracy – and know what it is - will understand this. Any outcome will not aid our progress towards democracy. But, if democracy is not the aim, it becomes rather necessary to decide who should be the custodians of power. This little bun fight is not the way – especially with Margaret Hodge at the helm.