Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Questions Could Have Halted Scandals

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Questions Could Have Halted Scandals

Article excerpt


T O whom am I accountable and for what? The answers we give to these questions determine the pattern of our relationships. Each of us is accountable to our partners for some actions, to our friends for others, to our colleagues, our teachers, our churches, our team mates and so on.

What is required of us if we are to be accountable? Three things. First, that we take responsibility for our decisions. Second, that we can give reasons for those decisions. Third, that we can say why these are good reasons.

To be able to give such accounts turns out to be the quality on which our relationships depend. If we cannot explain ourselves to those others who have the right to ask questions of us, we cannot be people in whom others can place trust.

One illustration is that, 1,000 years ago, every religious tradition prohibited drunkenness. They did so not because they knew of the detrimental effects of drink on health, but because they knew drunkenness prevents us giving adequate accounts of our behaviour. The courtroom defendant who claims they didn't know what they were doing because they were drunk has condemned themselves as failing to be an accountable person.

And so it is with MPs.

People have reacted to the new lexicon of flipping, redaction and duck islands with a contempt that mirrors that shown to them by so many politicians. MPs hiding their expenses, second incomes and whether they live in their constituencies have effectively told electors they do not owe them an account of these things. And their constituents have rightly told them that they do.

Failure of accountability lies at the root of this scandal, and this gives it a peculiar symmetry with the banking crisis. For here too it was the failure to hold executives to account that allowed much reckless credit expansion to take place.

If lack of accountability has been the problem, then enhancing accountability is the solution. Nick Clegg is right to argue that constituents should have a right of recall - the ability to force MPs to face re-election if they break the rules.

Second, the worst offenders were MPs in safe seats, those whose re-election is virtually guaranteed and who do not feel the need to answer tricky questions. …

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