Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Avoiding Responsibility

I don't know about you, but I always thought that one of the benefits of having a government was that of accountability. That the people grant the government power to regulate certain areas of their life, but that the power is expressly delegated from the people. Thus, it is the right of the people to reduce their elected representatives to a private station through the medium of regular elections.

We saw with the Ken Livingstone case, though, that this is now very much not the preserve of the people. Instead, it is an unaccountable body of men who are able to subjectively remove elected officials from office for a period of time. This was quite a shock to me - I believed it was my right to elect someone who was crass and insensitive if I wanted to.

Now, Ruth Kelly today announced changes to the way that banning sex offenders from teaching in schools would operate. Some of this seems sensible - rather than having a number of lists with the names of those banned from teaching, it's going to be consolidated into one list, so that it's harder for people to slip through the net. All well and good, except for the fact that this list is going to be operated by an "independent body".

Well, independent in what sense? Even the most objective historian has his own personal biases that affect his work - this will be exactly the same for an independent body deciding which sex offenders should and shouldn't be allowed to work in schools. If decisions on this level should be taken by government, and not by individual schools, then the decisions should be taken by someone directly accountable to the electorate.

Our electoral system isn't perfect in this regard, of course. I can't vote Ruth Kelly out of office unless I have the (mis?)fortune to live in Bolton West. I can vote against her party, but not in any direct way (here in Oxford West, for example, a vote for or against Labour is of little consequence). Nevertheless, the system works to the extent that if enough people vote for the Tories, then Kelly will be unable to be Education Secretary.

Who can I complain to about the decisions of an unelected commission? The tendency of this Labour government is to abrogate responsibility on contentious issues. Rather than take a firm line, they dither or give responsibility to someone else. That's why they offer a referendum on the euro. That's why a "Standards Authority" can remove elected officials from office, when we should be trusting the collective wisdom of the people. And that's why the Education Secretary now has no discretion over who teaches in schools. It's a sad state of affairs, and shows a contempt for the operation of a democracy.