Thursday, October 11, 2007

How to prosecute a lying politician.

Did anyone else watch The Ministry of Truth on BBC2 just now? I saw a summary of it on last night's Newsnight, and was compelled to watch the full version today.

If you didn't get to see it, the crux of the documentary was to find out what you can do if an MP (including the Prime Minister) openly lies to the electorate.

The shocking answer, according to the makers of this new documentary, is: you can't.

If a politician lies to the electorate, there is no formal course of legal redress outside a general election. In a bid to close this gap in the constitution, an MP has drafted The Misrepresentation of the People Act: a bill that would force politicians to tell the truth - or face criminal prosecution.

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price is now spearheading a national campaign to change British law so that any politician who deliberately misleads the electorate can be prosecuted.

Now, I don't normally get involved in politics, but watching the MPs in this documentary all agree that honesty was important, and then call the interviewer naive for wanting to put something into an actual law has put my back up quite a bit.

However, it was refreshing to see that no one backed down, and there were responses for every one of the MPs' objections. For instance:

The bill is not needed as Parliament regulates itself:
All of the regulatory bodies within Parliament report to the Prime Minister, who then decides if he wants to act on it. The programme likened this to being judge and jury at your own trial.

If an MP openly misleads Parliament their career is over:
Admittedly most MPs found to have lied do resign, but it doesn't prevent them from holding office again. Look at Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett. These MPs resigned only to find themselves elected officials once more.

Any MP in the House can ask "question after question after question" at Prime Minister's Question Time (Lord Falconer gave this little gem):
An MP can only ask a maximum of two questions per sitting, and the PM doesn't have to actually answer it.

To say this bill is needed is to suggest that all politicians are dishonest:
Not at all, claims the documentary. Just because we have laws against murder, robbery, rape, and theft doesn't mean that we would all do it if it was legal. (Although, an admittedly unscientific poll on the Ministry of Truth website asking "Do you think politicians lie to us" is currently sat at 96% for "Yes, on a regular basis")

You can't have a law against lying (particularly liked this one, that seemed to be spouted by most of the MPs):
Well, we do already. Trades descriptions laws, advertising laws, company laws... they all prevent individuals from deceiving their customers, or board members. Why should the government who, as one person on the documentary said, "are the board of directors for Great Britain PLC" be any different?

An Early Day Motion about the bill is set to be put in front of ministers next week. The cynical side of me thinks that a lot of smarmy spin doctors will shoot it down before anyone has had the chance to discuss it properly, but I truly hope that doesn't happen.

I wish Adam Price the best of luck next week, and sincerely hope he takes it all the way to an actual law.

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