Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Silent State - Heather Brooke

Synopsis - Revealing that the recent MP's expenses scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg.  Heather Brooke exposes the shocking and often farcical lack of transparency at all levels of government - whether it's their refusal to publish staff directories that show the true extent of the British arms trade, 'official' figures that are systematically manipulated before public release, or the fact that there's actually a government department dedicated to cutting bureaucracy, titled the Bureaucracy Reduction Group, comprised entirely of - you guessed it - bureaucrats.  At a time when the State knows more than ever about us, Brooke argues that without proper access to the information that citizens pay for, Britain can never be a true democracy.

Review - This book should be readily available for everyone to read.  It is.  My copy was from my local library and I expect most other libraries stock it.  I am not surprised but at the same time I am surprised - does that make sense?  Not really.  Let me explain. I worked in a department which dealt with ministerial correspondence.  Diplomacy was a key word, we stuck to facts and kept responses straightforward.  Fortunately, the correspondence I dealt with was not top end or particularly high on the political agenda but it still had to be signed off through the ranks before being sent down to the Minister's office for approval and then it would be returned edited.  We also dealt with FOI's and recently we were starting to get a few come in on a regular basis.  On the other hand, I didn't realise that the law courts were so zealously guarded and that despite us (the public) believing they are open to the press and public, in reality that is not the case.  Also, the gallery in the House of Commons, where bureaucrats makes it very difficult for members of the public to actually enter by imposing all sorts of restrictions.

I was also shocked to read about Jane Clift in Chapter 7 who made a complaint to her local council but ended up having a warning marker placed against her name for 18 months as being a potentially violent person!  Whatever happened to 'freedom of speech'?  It is frightening to think that we, as a nation are finding it increasingly difficult to speak out and if this really is the case, it is extremely worrying.  As Heather Brooke points out we are under surveillance with CCTV, traffic speed cameras, database of all sorts.  Let's not get too paranoid though, we aren't living in George Orwell's 1984 yet!

On the other hand what may be more important for the public to know is that we pays our taxes but when we want information on how our good money is spent we are denied access to these reports or  we have to pay for the privilege of obtaining this information. 

Every current and future politician should read this book!  4*

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