Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Transparency should not be for Blame

I was going to write a small blog post, but Peter Kawalek's discourse on what isn't said around MP expenses says what I was going to say, and far, far more elegantly.

I'm encouraged by the flurry of interest and activity surrounding the release of expenses data, but at the same time I can't help but question whether it really matters after all that.

Did people really care when this all hit the headlines? I, for one, got the impression that the weeks of blathering waffle on the radio and in the papers was being drummed up and forced on to stage by either politicians wanting to embarrass other politicians, politicians wanting to un-embarrass themselves, or media outlets looking to embarrass politicians - which, incidentally, is like taking sweets from a baby in a sweet shop.

For everyone else, talk of expenses was dull, dull, dull, and generally a good excuse to flick channel, turn off the radio, or go and do something interesting like make pasta shakers.

The point of this rant is this then: Is it important to spend time and energy releasing the kind of data that, while ideas of transparency might be in the public eye, doesn't actually either a) contribute to our understanding of the state of things, or b) offer a positive solution?

After all, the main reason for releasing expenses data is to find people to point fingers at, rather than to actually applaud MPs for not spending money. (Personally, I'm thinking of sending my MP some better coffee than the Kenco stuff he orders...)

Data can be good. Transparency can be good. But shouldn't we be careful that we're not just opening up an attitude of blame culture? Can we avoid a society transparency and monitoring are no better than CCTV or a nanny state - a culture of wrist-slapping people for their mistakes, rather than encouraging and rewarding valued behaviour?