The latest example of government contempt was pointed up by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas when she tabled a request to know why the government has not yet published the ‘2020-2021 Whole of Government accounts’. The reply was that they had been delayed by IT issues and “timeliness of data returns”. Honestly? They are two years overdue. HMRC and Companies House are not likely to accept such excuses from any private or public companies; they would find themselves paying substantial fines. What an example for a government to set, reflecting how little sense of responsibility they feel towards citizens.
Government centralisation of power
Then there are the examples of central government, having already restricted the funding available to our local authorities, now criticising and even legislating against their decisions. For example South Cambridgeshire Council trialled a four-day week. An independent analysis by Cambridge University found council performance was maintained, while employees’ wellbeing and productivity increased. Far from appreciating the savings to the council and other services from less need for agency staff, improvement in staff retention and reduction in ill-health, the local government minister has formally requested that they end the arrangement.
Honestly? Do the government not want healthier, more productive citizens? Do they not understand the concept of smarter working? Or do they just want our noses to the grindstone and to exert their control?
In another example in 2020 the government prohibited the administrators of the Local Government Pension Scheme from applying an ethical policy, which it claimed was not in line with the UK government’s foreign policy. After a judicial review the Supreme Court concluded that the government had exceeded its powers. The government’s reaction? Not to gracefully accept the limits of the law but to use its parliamentary majority to change the law on judicial review in its favour and to introduce the ’Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill’.
Richard Hermer KC from Matrix Chambers says of this:
“The implications for local democracy, for the proud history in our regions of campaigning for global human rights, for using our economic clout for the promotion of human rights, for free speech in this country and for compliance with our international law obligations are potentially profound.”
The ‘will of the people’
I also find objectionable the habit of members of this government attributing to me views which I certainly do not hold. I believe I am a member of the British public. According to the home secretary and Lord Murray, the Rwanda policy is the “will of the British people”. A YouGov poll six months ago suggests that is not true with only 10% supporting it and 39% preferring provision of more humanitarian routes. Also it says that the government have not exactly enlightened their citizens of the true situation. Some 45% believed that legitimate routes exist for genuine asylum seekers. In fact no such routes exist and someone has to be already in the UK in order to claim asylum.
Our government is quietly reducing our democratic choices, limiting our rights to protest, constraining the effect of withdrawing our labour, while all the while accumulating more power to itself. It might be helpful if members of the government occasionally remembered that (despite the majority it has in parliament) they are backed by the votes of 43.6% of the 67.3% of voters who turned out to vote – that’s just three in every ten voters (therefore seven in every ten voters chose not to support them). So that’s just 15 million out of a UK voting population of over 46.5 million. And this does not include future generations still under 18 and but it is their future which the government has in its hands.
Surely in a democracy members of a government are granted power on the basis that they will reciprocate by considering the interests and wellbeing of all the citizens – not just those whose votes are wanted at the next election, not just those who provide election funding, nor just those who will provide lucrative jobs for them should they lose power.