Another day, another call for an inquiry, this time on Lynton Crosby’s potential influence on the cigarette-plain packaging reversal. Ed Miliband loves calling for inquiries. I know I’m not the first one to remark upon this but it certainly bears repeating.
Public inquiries have their place. They can compel evidence, they can piece together bits of puzzles and come to a conclusion. But most of the inquiries Miliband calls for won’t achieve this. You see, he begins from a standpoint of ‘the public deserving to know the truth’. And, yes, I don’t fundamentally disagree with this. Of course, the public deserve to know the truth but is it the case that they will only believe the truth if it comes at them via a public inquiry?
There are people out there telling the truth on all sorts of things everyday. They have statistics to back up their claims, statements, things people should not have said but did. You’ve got disability campaigners, NHS campaigners, pro-unionists, anti-unionists, bankers, lobbyists, donors. All these people are making their voices heard. Yes, perhaps an inquiry into every single contested idea would be good in one respect – it would sift out the information and spoon-feed it to the public. But who’s to say the conclusion is the ‘right’ one?
At the end of the day, all the relevant information is usually at our fingertips. We can request government data under the FOI act – and we can publicly condemn them if they refuse to supply it. We can read, we can inform ourselves, we can think for ourselves instead of swallowing what the mainstream media – and the party leaders – want us to believe.
But it requires one simple thing: effort.
And that is perhaps why Miliband calls for an inquiry at every turn: he knows the general public has no interest in making the effort to sift through facts and find their own truth from them. He knows that his best shot at gaining power is calling for this inquiry or that inquiry and making out that he did so to enlighten the public. Well, the public already had a shot at being enlightened. It’s their own fault they never took it.
Yesterday I came across an issue I hadn’t previously paid much attention to – the ‘forcing out’ of a chief constable by the local PCC in Gwent. What drew my attention to it was the question asking in yesterday’s PMQs which, in my opinion, the Prime Minister answered badly. The case is explained here for anyone who hasn’t come across across it, focusing on the evidence both parties gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this week.
I was wholly against PCCs in the first place. I thought they added another layer of bureaucracy to a service that was already steeped in it and I worried about the political aspect of things. I firmly believe that politics has no place in policing but something startling in this case is that it seems to be an independent candidate with a similar attitude throwing his weight around. Would it have been so bad if his target hadn’t been a woman? I think whichever way you look at it, targeting someone you freely admit isn’t incompetent just because you have different working styles and viewpoints is wrong. It shouldn’t be for a PCC to remove people who are doing their job because of what seems to be a clash of personalities.
Of course, the fact that a woman was the target comes into play when you read some of the language allegedly involved in the dismissal – the word ‘humiliation’ crops up. I doubt that it would if the chief constable had been male. But what struck me as I watched PMQs yet was that Cameron still has his ‘women problem’, judging by his wholly inadequate response to a question on the subject from Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West):
Flynn – Was it the Prime Minister’s conception when he set up the office of police and crime commissioner that a fine chief constable such as the one in Gwent should have a career cut short by a vindictive bully who told her to resign or he would humiliate her?
Prime Minister – The point of having police and crime commissioners is to make sure there is proper accountability and that police constables have to account to a local person. That is why a number of former Labour Members of Parliament stood for the post. In some cases, such as that of John Prescott, the people of his region saw sense and rejected him.
In what way is that an answer? How does ‘proper accountability’ for a chief constable equate to them being hounded out of their job? I’d love a fuller explanation from Cameron but I won’t hold my breath.
There will be many more PCC problems in the future. There are already complaints about how much they cost and what precisely their role in. I expect this to come to the fore ahead of the general election but I doubt any party will go into it with the promise to scrap these ridiculous posts.