Achieving accountable government

The fight against coronavirus ‘fake news’ should begin with our political leaders, not just online trolls

The fight against coronavirus ‘fake news’ should begin with our political leaders, not just online trolls

Disinformation and fake news stories have proliferated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Paul Reilly discusses their spread and effects and argues that, while this is concerning, misinformation from official government sources is far more damaging to public trust – and therefore to public health as well.

Trump’s fight over Covid-19 numbers shows how the hollowing out of expertise can be dangerous for democracy

Trump’s fight over Covid-19 numbers shows how the hollowing out of expertise can be dangerous for democracy

As in any emergency or disaster, institutional agreement over the statistics of the Covid-19 pandemic is incredibly important. During the crisis, President Trump has questioned federally requested research around the spread of the pandemic and the amount of equipment needed to tackle it. Philip Rocco writes on how Trump’s efforts to undermine a common understanding of the numbers around the crisis can be a threat to democracy itself.

Not all scrutiny is equal: how parliaments vary in scrutinising the implementation of legislation

Not all scrutiny is equal: how parliaments vary in scrutinising the implementation of legislation

Parliaments can contribute to more accountable governance, not just by questioning government ministers in the chamber, but also by monitoring the implementation and impact of the laws they pass. This post-legislative scrutiny can be divided into four categories: passive, informal, formal and independent forms. Comparatively, parliaments vary according to the extent to which they carry out post-legislative scrutiny. Franklin De Vrieze discusses these variations and argues that to be effective parliaments should both look at the implementation of legislation, its impact and at unintended consequences of some laws. At the time of the Covid-19 crisis, good-quality scrutiny of policies and legislation in all areas, including legislation on public health and government’s response to Covid-19, has become all the more important.

Reforming Whitehall: bluff, bluster, brilliance and brains

Reforming Whitehall: bluff, bluster, brilliance and brains

Geoff Mulgan assesses Dominic Cummings’ proposals for reforming government and argues that, while bringing new people and ideas into Number 10 can be welcome, there are several pitfalls, not least in failing to learn from past attempts at reform.

Australian politics shows why the de-separation of political and administrative careers matters for democracy

Australian politics shows why the de-separation of political and administrative careers matters for democracy

One cornerstone of executive politics in established liberal democracies has long been a system for controlling government corruption and malfeasance that separates out clear roles for the changing elite of elected politicians and their advisers, and the permanent administrators running the civil service. Yet in Australia Keith Dowding and Marija Taflaga find that the growing role of special advisers, plus increased mobility from adviser roles into career public-service pathways, is now an integral factor in the re-emergence of substantial ministerial scandals.

Three ways of theorising ‘capture’: when politics and business join together

Three ways of theorising ‘capture’: when politics and business join together

In the strongest-performing liberal democracies the separation of the political sphere from dominant or directly controlling business influences is protected by a range of ‘blocked exchanges’ (in Michael Walzer’s terms). But in authoritarian regimes, semi-democracies and flawed liberal democracies it is common for business interests to take control of the levers of political power acting alongside top politicians, with a joined-up elite or ‘oligarchy’ thereby ‘capturing’ the state. In different forms, this worldwide phenomenon can be seen from Russia to South Africa and from China to Brazil. Frank Vibert outlines three ways of looking at these situations, and stresses the difficulty of identifying and implementing a cure.

Dominic Cummings’s thinking on the civil service is a potent challenge to the Whitehall system – and is likely to be opposed

Dominic Cummings’s thinking on the civil service is a potent challenge to the Whitehall system – and is likely to be opposed

Patrick Diamond discusses Dominic Cummings’s stated intent of imposing disruptive reforms on the civil service, and explains why his rhetoric may prove to be particularly counterproductive in a Conservative Government.

A Conservative majority means parliamentary scrutiny is in danger of being weakened

A Conservative majority means parliamentary scrutiny is in danger of being weakened

Marc Geddes considers the potential impact the recent Conservative victory may have upon parliamentary scrutiny. The size of the majority, the current government’s agenda for legislative reform and the changes to select committee membership may all have a detrimental effect on parliament’s ability to scrutinise government effectively.

The government’s refusal to release the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russian activities against the UK is part of a worrying pattern of obstruction and delay

The government’s refusal to release the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russian activities against the UK is part of a worrying pattern of obstruction and delay

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has produced a report into Russian interference in UK politics, but it cannot be published without government approval. Andrew Defty explains that Number 10’s failure to release the report before Parliament was dissolved is the latest in a series of government actions that have hindered effective parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence and security services. Reform to ensure the committee has greater independence from executive obstruction should be considered in the next Parliament.

The rule of law, not the rule of politics

The rule of law, not the rule of politics

Joelle Grogan comments on the UK Supreme Court’s Cherry/Miller No 2 judgment on the government’s attempt to prorogue Parliament. She argues that criticisms of the court as ‘too political’ are misguided, and its ruling defended the rule of law, and upheld the principle that Parliament is at the core of the British constitution.