Transparency = Clarity = Trust?

At the heart of this furore about expenses is a breakdown in trust.

We think that our politicians have been shafting us and getting away with naughtiness for years. The activities of 20 to 30 of the 650 elected members in Westminster is provoking the kind of outrage and, at the same time, apathy, that has sent Nick Griffin (“RT @TiernanDouieb: In mythology, the Griffin is part lion, part bird. Yet Nick Griffin of the BNP is all cock”) and his odious ideas to Brussels on behalf of the British.

The solution, we cry, is for political reform; for shining brighter lights onto the activity of government and scrutinising everything that our political leaders do. In the attempt to find a way of governing the nation that works, we want to ramp up and ramp up the organs of checking up on it.

Such a response says far more about the way in which Britain has been governed in the last 12 years. A competitive obsession with targets, inspection and league tables has clearly socialised the public into thinking if you ‘research’ things, inspect people and shame those who fail then that results in a better situation.

Maybe it does in schools and hospitals, although there’s plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, that people trick the system, or that ‘satisfactory’ becomes devalued because it means you aren’t good or outstanding.

When it comes to the people who govern, and the relationships we have with those around us does transparency and scrutiny bring greater trust? No, what it brings is an ever increasing bar which we expect people to achieve. Oh, so you think you’re squeaky clean do you? Well I’ve got news for you, I’m going to raise the bar even higher. It gives us a rod to beat people with. And we like nothing more than finding someone to be blameworthy.

There’s been a lot of shady goings on but not even 10% of Westminster has been indicted by the Telegraph’s campaign. And we forget that at the peril of political discourse and actually trying to make people’s lives better. Shockingly (for the naysayers) it seems that Alistair Darling’s over confident predictions might not be totally off the mark and that the decisive action taken by the government as the economy went into a tailspin may have been the right thing to do. But the electorate don’t believe that.

And we don’t believe that because we’re obsessed with a belief that those in Westminster are trying to put one over us. So we quest for a transparency with the claim that it will rebuild our trust in politics but whose only goal is checking that people haven’t tripped up. And that does nothing to build trust. Because it’s built on a foundation of total disenchantment.

Humble accountability that demonstrates the reality of people’s hopes, fears, mistakes and dreams is what you and I recognise in the flawed lives of ourselves and those around us. If we try to look at our leaders, and our peers, with x-ray vision or sight that wants to reduce everything to whether or not people are behaving then we get some kind of a warped idea of reality. Transparency supposedly breeds clarity. Actually all it does is cloud the glass with greater suspicion.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

It’s easy to criticise and judge based on the image presented by the media; an image that is political in itself but is only ever enough to sell copy. We don’t discuss anything that’s going on because we can’t move beyond a place of anger and blame. And if we stay obsessed with an idea of disappointing failure then all we will ever be is resounding gongs and clashing symbols.

1 Corinthians 13 is not just for when people get married; it’s not just for church; it’s not just for Christians. If as a nation we understood that what lies at the heart of relationships is the attitude contained in that then we might have some clarity, and we might have some trust. 2000 years later and I’m not sure there’s ever been a better manifesto for relating to one another than this chapter…

About Benjamin Welby

Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I'm a displaced northerner currently living in Croydon, I church with a group of Christians who meet in a Soho nightclub on Wednesdays and I support Bradford City. I've an academic background in History, Politics and International Development. I work for the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog is infrequently updated and may feature any, all or none of these things...