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Institutions take another battering - which shows why the people should exercise more suspicion, and more power

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

Today's newspapers make unhappy reading for those who believe institutions tend to be inherently good.

  • A Health Minister openly states that parts of the NHS have been infected by a rotten culture.
  • The Metropolitan Police are accused by one of their own officers of spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence. 
  • The Serious and Organised Crime Agency and Lord Leveson have both apparently turned a blind eye to evidence of endemic hacking by legal firms.
  • The chairman of the BBC Trust's own finance committee apparently didn't bother to read a whistleblower's warnings of a scandal that cost the licence fee payer £100m. 
  • To top it all, it turns out that thanks to opaque invoicing, MoD contractors have been able for years to charge the taxpayer for car crashes that have yet to happen, magicians and other wasteful pursuits.

These revelations should teach us two things - one organisational and one cultural.

First, power (either in terms of policy, the law or spending taxpayers' money) must never be exercised without accountability and transparency. Seductive as calls for independent inquiries, putting power into the hands of de-politicised managers and restrictions on freedom of information may sometimes be to politicians, they all inherently bring a risk of waste, abuse of power or potentially deadly failure to public services. 

We must ensure that each arm of government knows that if they do wrong they will be found out and that there is a clear mechanism to punish them if they do so.

Second, we should all as citizens, taxpayers and politically interested individuals ensure our sense of suspicion is healthy and well exercised. That is not to argue for nihilism or anarchism, but we should by now have learned that big organisations are not automatically good organisations, that senior figures are not automatically truthful figures and that independent authority normally means unaccountable activity, not unbiased decision-making.

Libertarian thinking has a growing impact on the Conservative movement, as polling in today's Sun demonstrates. The outrageous scandals revealed in today's press show why it is a valuable contribution to ensuring our country is well governed.


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