One of the least appealing aspects of the Blair-Brown administrations – in a very long list of unappealing things – is the institutional dishonesty which these two men and their advisers have brought to government. The dishonesty comes with added hypocrisy since both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, in their different ways, have expressly laid claim to a religious and moral basis to their lives.
This dishonesty is not just morally wrong. One is left gaping sometimes at the political stupidity of lying about subjects on which you are bound to be found out sooner or later, particularly things which, however important, are not matters on which governments fall. Governments are entitled to make some mistakes, to experiment, to assess the consequences, and to accept they got it wrong. What loses the votes is the persistent feeling that we are being lied to daily on every subject.
A good example of this arose in June 2007 when Ben Bradshaw, then an environment minister, said that there was no published evidence that the move to fortnightly rubbish collections had resulted in any increased risk to public health. This was not strictly a lie – no such evidence had been published. But that was because the government had sat on a report costing £27,000 which had reached exactly that conclusion.
We know about this in Oxford, because Oxford was one the many local authorities which switched to fortnightly collections despite the deep unpopularity of the scheme. The city council faithfully followed the government guidelines – introduce the new rotas in the autumn so the residents do not notice the smell of rotting food, avoid pending local elections and so on – all the typical New Labour emphasis on political trickery rather than on practicality or democracy.
The mindless twerps who actually execute such policies at Oxford City Council duly cocked it up, with misleading (and conflicting) guidance literature, arrrogant trampling on tax-payers protests, and crass actions such as refusing to take bags of plastics neatly placed beside an overflowing recycling box (see Just empty the f***ing bins). The rats gambol in the streets, fly-tipping is rife, and many of us now drive our rubbish to the tip rather than store it (whist simultaneously paying ever-higher council tax). The deep unpopularity did for the Lib Dem majority administration which had been left holding the implementation baby, allowing the Oxford Labour Group, in true Gordon Brown style, to be absent during the furore.
So what drives the government to conceal a report which it had itself commissioned? Little Ben Bradshaw is not a bad chap as New Labour MPs go, one of those who stood for a no-hope seat (Exeter) in the 1997 election and was as surprised as everyone else when he was elected. I suspect that he personally is both honest enough not to relish having to lie in public and realistic enough to know that he would be found out (it was a Freedom of Information Request which flushed out the truth which is why it has taken a year to emerge). He presumably just did as he was told
It all confirms the assumption that New Labour lies by default. It is hardly a trivial matter that we are over-run with rats as a direct result of a policy which the government enjoined on local councils, but it is very much worse that Labour so casually conceals the outcome of publicly-funded research because the result was not to its liking.