Tuesday, 16 June 2009

'Professional' Blogging.

Some copper in Lancashire has received an 'official warning' from his employer- the police- because he kept an anonymous blog, in which he criticised both the government, government ministers and the beaurocracy of the police force. Apparently, this is 'unprofessional'. I have never read his blog, so am not sure what he said that was controversial.

But, it seems to me that as a police officer you have an obligation not to talk about ongoing police investigations or operations, which you are involved in or have 'inside' information on, and not to reveal personal information about fellow officers or about the public who you encounter within your job. This is because it might endanger convictions, people's safety and it breaches privacy legislation. But, why does being a police officer exclude you from having a say on the political process and on government. Yes, police officers are civil servants, who are not allowed to join political parties as they are expected not to be unduly influenced by party politics, but this is not the same as not having an opinion. Do we really think that police officers are mindless organisms who just do their job and have no interest in public affairs? And, do we even want police officers who do not understand the bigger political issues surrounding their job? Or, are they expected to be mindless, until they get to the senior ranks and suddenly have a broad political awareness and be able to make politically aware decisions? Let's not kid ourselves that policing isn't a political process.

Furthermore, what is the point in pretending politically motivated and knowledgeable police personnel are neither of those things? It doesn't stop them having those opinions. It doesn't stop them letting those opinions influence their jobs. Keeping your politics out of your job is a choice. Being able to separate the opinions stated on your private blog from how you do your job is a choice.

Finally and especially in light of the recent controversy over MP's expenses and our general dissatisfaction with our national leader's honesty, we, the public, should treat all attempts by the government to avoid transparency and public accountability as a challenge to our democratic process. If members of the police force are dissatisfied with the police force, a public body paid for by the public, then those concerns should be voiced to the public- their employers. What have they got to hide?I know the concern is that critisicms of the police undermine public confidence in the police- but the response to this should not be to shy away criticism, but to assure the public that there is no cause for concern. We have a right to be informed and worried when there is a problem, because the police should be accountable to us.

And, ultimately, this is what this late political crisis in government has been about- the relationship between the public and the government. We are finishing a process started during the English Civil War (as we style it, despite it being a UK-wide phenomenon). The Civil War was fought to dispute the right of the monarchy to rule and when Charles II was finally brought back to the throne, it was a rule based on the consent of parliament. Similarly, parliament governed through the consent of the people (a people who expanded over the next centuries with the broadening of the electorate), and when we finally introduced the police in the nineteenth century, they policed by consent. Consent has been at the heart of UK governance (over the UK, let's not mention the colonies) which is why transparency and accountability has always been of significantly more concern in the UK, than in other parts of the world, even in other European countries.

The latest expenses scandal highlighted the extent to which the accountability of parliament to the people had effectively been a myth, and it made us angry. This was not just a question of the misuse of our money, but was a challenge to the accountability of government that lies at the heart of our version of democracy. Parliament has lost our trust- our consent to govern- and they have to earn it back. This will happen through a willingness to be criticised, both internally and externally, to listen and adapt to criticism, to be transparant and to be accountable. Until they earn that trust, they have no right to discipline those that are willing to speak out against their misgovernment.


Anonymous said...

Well as far as I can gather he did talk about professional stuff,including cases he was dealing with and was therefore bringing his employers into disrepute.

Not a bright idea really. If you can get sacked just for writing about working at Waterstones.

Moral of this story, don't name your employers on your blog.

Feminist Avatar said...