"Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
President Barack H. Obama, January 20th 2009.
It’s simple: if there’s no transparency of government, there can be no trust.
On May 16th 2008, when the High Court ruled that MPs’ expenses claims must be published under the Freedom of Information Act, some of us rejoiced that – finally! – our Parliament would be more open and transparent.
Was this decision made public? No: it was quietly sneaked out during the Heathrow runway announcement last week. Their choosing to change the law in order to keep their expenses claims – which we citizens pay for – secret, goes against an open democracy. If they’ve nothing to hide, why hide the information? In Scotland, MSPs are required to declare all of their expenses to the Scottish parliament, so why not in England?
Let us be clear here: this is not about making MPs account for every little photocopy or printout made. This is about MPs deciding that – unlike every other public servant in Britain – they deserve different treatment, and should not have to disclose their expenses. If we all have to justify our expenses to the taxman, then so should they. This is not Orwell's Animal Farm: there should not be one rule for them and another for us.
MPs will be voting to alter the High Court ruling and change the law this Thursday, January 22nd 2009. If they win their vote, it will be a strike against transparency in this country and a deathblow to any trust we have in democracy. But it’s not too late: we can voice opposition and force MPs to uphold the High Court ruling – if we act NOW.