By Nigel Tate: Political Columnist
Political accountability can be defined as “to hold the government responsible for their actions or decisions”. It is a core element of a democratic system and, without the ability to hold our government accountable, can we really say we live in a democracy?
Recently, the British government have been scrutinised for not following basic social distancing rules during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The press and many of the British public were outraged by Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham, despite the government telling everyone to “stay home and save lives”. This, along with members of the cabinet being photographed in public while not wearing face masks, underlines many contradictions between what the government says and how they behave. So, we ask ourselves, is it one rule for them and another for us?
Conversely, there have been examples where political accountability has led to the government re-evaluating certain policies, the most notable of which would be the Windrush Scandal in 2018. The so-called ‘Windrush Generation’ were brought from Caribbean nations, between 1948 and 1970, to essentially help with rebuilding the UK after the Second World War. Even though the 1948 British Nationality Act gave them rights to settle and work in the UK, they did not receive any legal documents of citizenship. Therefore, in 2018 they were denied rights, arrested and faced deportation. The High Court ruled that Theresa May’s immigration policy was indeed “hostile” and did not comply with basic human rights, causing Priti Patel to later apologise on behalf of the government, stating that “serious harm” was caused by the Home Office.
Although political accountability lies at the heart of democracy, there is evidence that it is declining globally. The United States’ government, over the last few weeks, have faced much criticism with their handling of the BLM movement, with Trump controversially tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. President Trump’s unorthodox use of Twitter to handle domestic and even foreign issues, emphasises how weak the systems are to ensure that politicians are held responsible for what they say.
So, what would our nation look like with limited political accountability? It would resemble a more authoritarian system, where the government would not be held culpable for their actions. MPs would have less motivation to serve the interests of their constituency and there would be a lack of trust between members of the public and the government. Enhancing the extent of political accountability matters because it will not only improve cohesion between the government and the people, but also allow the political systems to function effectively.
There are many solutions to tackle the decline in accountability. Some include a stronger supervision of the civil service, as well as implementing safeguards in policies to which the High Courts or Select Committees can act on. However, as members of society, we must also take the initiative to enforce change ourselves. Participating in peaceful protests, signing petitions and maintaining the momentum of political movements are the best ways to guarantee our government will listen and provide them with the opportunity to right their wrongs.