Wednesday, 20 July 2011

One simple rule for public servants

One of the reasons the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had to resign was that he'd accepted a free stay at a health spa. A day before I went on strike, the Chancellor of the Exchequer - fresh from attacking us for not working - turned up at Wimbledon. The head of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has frequently had slap-up feeds in posh restaurants with the companies who he subsequently let off their taxes. A lot of golf is played by businessmen trying to butter up councillors and planning officers - often excluding women of course.

There's a culture amongst politicians, civil servants and other public servants of socialising with their class, regardless of propriety. There is - in Anthony Sampson's terms - a political class which is educated in the same schools and universities, lives in the same areas (of London), goes to the same events and dines in the same restaurants.

So let's end these cosy deals with a simple rule.

If you're paid by the taxpayer, your meetings are held in the office, with a minute-taker.

Is that clear? So Murdoch doesn't sneak into the back door of Downing Street. Party donors don't murmur sweet nothings into the ears of Cabinet Ministers at Glyndebourne. Policemen don't go to dinner with News International hacks and councillors don't shake hands with developers down at the Masonic Lodge. Weapons manufacturers don't - as now - second their staff to the Ministry of Defence. I won't accept lobster from academic textbook publishers.

Instead, if people want to talk to public servants, they come to our cramped, bleak offices and drink bitter coffee, while every word both parties say is recorded. Every citizen is under surveillance all the time, so this seems a small price to pay.

It will take some adjustment, but it's a small requirement for anyone who wants to live off our taxes.

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