Each new year in politics seems to bring a new low in terms of how our elected representatives conduct themselves. Whenever a new minister is appointed, it appears their only goal is to out-do the shameless lying and corruption that their predecessors got away with.
There’s often a grey area between incompetence, ignorance, and negligence when politicians introduce a new policy, but sometimes things can be rather clear cut.
For instance, it is right that parents whose child dies from neglect can be prosecuted. And so it should also be right to prosecute somebody like Iain Duncan Smith, whose benefit sanctions regime has led to many unnecessary and foreseeable deaths (e.g., from starvation or illness) after people had their benefits stopped for no good reason.
Some may argue that the government do not always know beforehand the full consequences of implementing a new policy. That may be true of some policies, but it is a virtual certainty that Iain Duncan Smith knew: (a) people would have the benefits they rely on to feed and house themselves cut off; (b) with no money, they would be unable to buy food; (c) with no food, the would face starvation; (d) the end result of starvation is death. So when IDS got the DWP to implement his regime of benefit sanctions, he surely must have known that there were likely to be deaths as a direct result.
There are many other examples of ministerial conduct that ought to have landed the minister in court. The case of Amber Rudd’s deportation of Samim Bigzad is a very recent example of a minister ignoring a court order which even stated that Rudd is in contempt of court. However, despite being in contempt of court she cannot be jailed or fined personally, instead the home office is even though the minister herself is the one who is in contempt.
The end result is the taxpayer is hit with the bill, whilst the person who actually broke the law isn’t punished at all. The censure of the courts is not career ending now as it was even a decade ago, and is of no consequence whatsoever to people like Rudd who do not care about the censure of the court.
Amazingly, as the law currently stands ministers effectively have legal immunity. In most countries, if the government decided to ignore the courts it would trigger a constitutional crisis. But in Tory Britain it evokes at best a shrug.
We need to stop giving politicians a free pass to behave in ways that would be deemed criminal if done by an ordinary citizen or corporation. We urgently need new laws that would allow politicians to be tried and punished for their actions in public office. Until that happens, there’ll be little incentive for people like Iain Duncan Smith to behave themselves and actually serve the public interest.