Monday, December 6, 2010

WikiLeaks exposes the democratic deficit

A thoughtful post from Labour MP Eric Joyce on the ongoing WikiLeaks saga -

"Wherever you stand, it seems to me that there’s been too little said so far about what Wikileaks means for the future of official government data classification and management. There’s a host of other questions lurking beneath that too. Like will governments in future choose to accept that people will know a lot more about the sometimes difficult-to-stomach compromises which nevertheless keep citizens safe? And will those citizens accept that the price of these new information flows is that they will need to face up more that before to the moral contradictions and compromises which lie at the core of they way they live?"

I think my own questions would be - has the issue of whether those contradictions and compromises actually need to be at "the core" of how we live ever been properly tested? If that's about to happen, isn't it long-overdue? And even if Joyce's premise of necessity is correct, doesn't the fact that we've never been asked if we want to "face up to it" call into question whether we've in any meaningful sense been a democracy all this time?


  1. Given that the power dynamics of who holds the information are likely to have been changed by Wikileaks, then it is inevitable that the secretive British state will have to change. Blair said he regretted the Freedom of Information Act because light began to be shone on to the decisions of government; the furore about Wikileaks has the same mentality that the information is ours the government's and not yours the people's because you're too dim to understand the difficult choices.

    Might it cross their minds that part of the alienation from government and politics is this secrecy and that if you open up the complexity people will understand better? The establishment might then not be able to do what it wants - like best friend tax deals with the super rich - but what it has to do will be well founded and grounded in consent.

  2. Some things clearly have to be kept top secret. Letting the public know, would be letting the “enemy” know. Apart from that I see no real reason to keep people out of the loop.

    The trouble with ‘people at the top’ is that they always want things to go on the way they have always gone along.

    Once upon a time we bowed to royalty and tugged our forelocks to the “maister”. Now we don’t.

    ‘People at the top’ must understand that almost nothing will remain secret now. In many ways they are to blame. They have been duplicitous; they’ve cheated and lied and they have stolen. We don’t trust them and we don’t like them. As a matter of course we will want to know more and more. The Telegraph ran off the shelves while they were releasing the dirt on the MPs; the Guardian has been the same this week, while it has been releasing the embarrassing facts that we are less of the junior partner that Cameron proposed recently, and more of a door mat to be used as and when the USA requires its boots cleaning.

    I’ve been 100% behind Assange, and really still am. But I have a little less enthusiasm for releasing the locations of sensitive sites. I think the organization may have shot itself in the foot over that one.

    However, if the Met manage to find Assange (a friend of mine suggested that he arrange to meet Cressida Dick in a room at HQ; that way he should be safe for a long time) and a magistrate sends him to Sweden, and in doing so look as if they are abetting Sweden to do the bidding of the USA, I suspect that the moral high ground will swiftly return to Assange.

  3. I agree about the list of sensitive sites, Tris - it's hard to see what public good that served. But the all-out war that is currently being waged against WikiLeaks and Assange (and I make no assumptions about whether or not he is guilty of rape) is chilling to behold.