Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Politicians will be held to account more easily in the future

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Fraser Nelson wrote an excellent and widely praised blog post on the Spectator blog on Thursday entitled "Why Brown will get caught out this time round". In it he argues that Brown's usual trick of completely misrepresenting his opponent's position and then hammering away at it until it seeps into the public conscience is going to be much more difficult to achieve with hundreds or thousands of citizen journalists in the form of bloggers pulling apart his terminological inexactitudes.

An aspect of the future of politics and holding politicians to account though that Fraser did not highlight is the wealth of on the record data that is available through search engines to ordinary people.

I remember when Brown first became Prime Minister in 2007 and Cameron was asking if he would agree to a televised debate during the eventual General Election campaign. Brown high-handedly dismissed the idea claiming that we do not have a presidential system in this country. Unfortunately for Brown he was on the record in an interview on BBC Breakfast Time from 1987 calling for Margaret Thatcher to do exactly what Cameron had been arguing for. This was embrassing for the PM and I think is one of the things that helped propagate the idea that he is not straightforward with people as it was widely reported.

The thing is though that finding that clip must have been quite difficult. I have just tried to find it on Youtube and was not able to for example. It probably took a researcher to trawl back through restricted archive footage to get hold of it because it was from 1987 when the world wide web was a still a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee's eye.

I had a similar problem a few days ago trying to find a source for something I recall happening duirng the dog days of the John Major administration in about 1996. I remembered an advisor or somesuch having resigned and claimed that the government of the time acted "as if they had a divine right to govern". I remembered the exact quote but could not find an online source for it. I guess 1996 is too early for it to have been put on websites as a matter of course.

The thing is though that most of the main politicians of the present and certainly over the next few years (Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, David Miliband, Alan Johnson) have all come to prominence during a period when everything that they have ever said or done on the record will be recorded somewhere on the web (newspaper web sites, blogs, Youtube etc. etc.) and therefore in say 5 or 10 years time it is going to be very difficult for any of them to say or do things that go against firmly stated previous positions which may have been done for positioning purposes at the time but come back to haunt them without good and well explained reason.

But the most important aspect of this ties in with what Fraser was saying. Everybody has access to this information, not just journalists or TV archivists. If for example David Miliband is PM in 10 years time we bloggers would have instant access to all of his previous utterances and he will know that any position he takes will have to be able to be reconciled with this. We, the public will hold him directly to account; he will not be able to control the agenda through friendly journalists.

I think that the eventual effect of this will be more honest politics. The politicians who are more honest and are not easily able to be taken apart and hung by their own previous words will prosper in this new environment. The internet will be a liberating influence in a plethora of ways. Dinosaurs like Gordon Brown just don't get this but he will be part of the past soon enough partly undone by the new technology.

If David Cameron became Prime Minister next year, an interesting situation will arise in the run up to the subsequent General Election. Mr Cameron is on record thousands of times all archived across the web calling for a televised debate between the leaders. It would be almost impossible for him to credibly refuse it when the boot is on the other foot. That is one small example of how the technology will change the future of politics.

I for one am very much looking forward to this.


neil craig said...

It would be nice for the war criminals, mass murderers, practitioners of genocide, child sex enslavers & those who dissect living people would be brought to justice.

Not many left in the party leadership when that happens.

Anders Hanson said...

Of course the big downside is that there are many people out there who start blogging as a way of exploring their opinions and openly discussing their views without thinking they may one day try and get elected.

It would be a shame if one of these people had words from their blog quoted back at them many years later, when their views may have changed as a result of them getting older and/or giving them more thought.

Mark Reckons said...

Indeed Anders, I can see that could increasingly become a problem.

But in this case it would surely be reasonable to explain that the person's views had changed. People are usually forgiving of maturing and changing views when the reasons are clearly explained.

What they are less forgiving of is positions that are taken for what in retrospect can be seen to be as partisan advantage and political convenience and then when the circumstances change (e.g. the person's party is now in power) they completely change their view, again for political expediency. Those are the sort of things that will get harder and harder to get away with.

Fausty said...

Speaking of lies, why are the LibDems not making a noise about Brown's rehiring of Damien McBride?

And why are the papers keeping quiet about it?