Opinion: ‘Goverment needs to clean up its act’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 14th November 2021, 3:15 pm
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson speaking in the House of Commons. Photo: PA Wire

Democracy has its problems.

I am sure that those who listen to Parliament’s proceedings must get exasperated from time to time: they may wonder why there is so much bickering.

The behaviour can seem somewhat boorish, even childish. The public may also dislike the atmosphere which prevails on occasion in which there are boos and cheers in equal measure.

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It can almost seem like a form of team sports instead of a method of deciding a nation’s priorities and what to do about them.

Democracy isn’t perfect.

However, recent events have shown one of its virtues: scrutiny. All elected representatives are supposed to answer to their constituents and if they don’t, their constituents have the right to get rid of them.

What made the recent attempts by the Conservative government to save Owen Paterson was that it appeared they wanted to reduce the role of scrutiny.

Owen Paterson has suffered an unimaginable tragedy.

He apparently has been moved by his wife’s suicide to devote his time and energies to work on the issue; I sincerely hope he continues to do so. And yet, he was in breach of lobbying rules, and he doesn’t appear to feel any regret about having broken them. All these facts are simultaneously true.

Owen Paterson in many respects is a sympathetic character, but he should not be a Member of Parliament.

The Conservatives, for whatever reason, had difficulty absorbing this truth, at least at first.

They tried to change the rules to save him and stop him being suspended. In the end, he decided to leave of his own accord.

However, why did the Conservatives try to save him in the first place? Surely it would have been better to accept the complicated truth and tell Paterson that he had to stand down?

When a government has been in power too long, it can develop an attitude that it is somehow beyond the normal rules. What is particularly damaging about this episode was that the Conservatives aspired to erode democracy’s precious asset of scrutiny.

This time around, it did not work.

But what would have happened if the example was less egregious than this one?

Would the rule change have passed in the dead of night and gone unremarked?

What applies in national government applies in Peterborough as well: the current Conservative administration is not fond of scrutiny.

It would rather the public found the details of its work so tedious it can carry on uninterrupted.

They have been in place for over two decades: when the wheel does turn and the public tires of this Conservative council, we in the Labour group will peel back the layers which obscure what has happened during their tenure.

We will publish what we find. We believe that it’s not sufficient to merely offer a change in policies; we want a reinvigorated democracy.

The old saying states: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

We agree. We also believe that will give local democracy a welcome boost.