There are innumerable scandals in British public life at present, most of them involving covered up truths. Think of the recent inquiry set up by Theresa May, (a woman who I met once in my capacity as a philosophy and religious studies teacher, and used to have a lot of respect for) when she recently announced that Justice Lowell Goddard. a New Zealand Judge, will lead the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It will not however investigate allegations of individual abuse (such as the Saville case) but merely institutional cases (eg Children’s homes). So other inquiries will have to be set up for other types of cases. Then there was the Blood Sunday Inquiry, which took from 1998-2010 to publish its final report. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, confusingly also known as the Saville Inquiry after its chairman, Lord Saville of Newdigate, had been established in 1998 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair after campaigns for a second inquiry by families of those killed and injured in (London)Derry on Bloody Sunday. It was finally published 15 June 2010. The whole inquiry cost the British tax payer 195 Million pounds. In other words, it lasted 12 years and cost £195m, making it the longest and most expensive public inquiry in UK history (so far). What did it accomplish ? It found out what could have been established immediately if serving British army officers had a legal duty to tell the truth: that they fired the first bullets on civilians. Then there is the actual Saville Inquiry, Operation Yewtree, which is ongoing and costing millions – but since it is run by the Metropolitan Police, and the Metropolitan Police itself has been found out to be corrupt, and itself is subject to a newly announced Inquiry. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) announced in March 2015 that is to investigate 14 referrals detailing allegations of corruption in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in relation to child sex offences dating from the 1970s to the 2000s. So another inquiry then, taking endless time and probably going nowhere fast. Then there was the Hillsborough Inquiry, taking from 1989 to 2014 to finally report. The Hillsborough disaster occurred on 15 April 1989 at the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, England, when a crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 766 others. The 1990 official inquiry into the disaster, the Taylor Report, concluded that “the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control” but it did not ascertain the exact details. On the 20th anniversary of the disaster (2009), Labour Government minister Andy Burnham called for the police, ambulance and all other public agencies to release documents that had not been made available to Lord Justice Taylor in 1989.This led to the formation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which in September 2012 concluded that Liverpool fans were not responsible for the deaths and that attempts had been made by the authorities to conceal what happened, including the alteration by police of 116 statements relating to the disaster (oh dear oh dear). Now, in 2015, finally, there are new inquests ongoing into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool FC supporters who died at Hillsborough. These are taking place at Birchwood Park in Warrington and are being heard by Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Goldring, who has been made an assistant coroner for the purpose. The original verdict of accidental death was quashed in December 2012 following years of campaigning by families, survivors and supporters, and the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report. Only just now, March 2015, has the Policeman in charge of the police operation, David Duckenfield, finally admitted that it was all basically his fault it happened, and that the 96 deaths were down to his inexperience as an officer and wrongly opening a tunnel leading to the unforseen consequence of 96 deaths, But he had never had the courage to tell the truth before. Instead he had turned to drink and his life had fallen apart.
Then there is of course the Chilcot Inquiry, which was supposed to inquire into why Tony Blair sent Britain to War against Iraq in 2003, and on what grounds. It was set up by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in July 2009 to consider Britain’s involvement in Iraq between mid-2001 and July 2009. It covered the “run-up to the conflict, the subsequent military action and its aftermath with the purpose to establish the way decisions were made, to determine what happened and to identify lessons to ensure that in a similar situation in future, the British government is equipped to respond in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.” To the disappointment of many people, in 2015 the Report has till not been published. One of its Commission members, Sir Martin Gilbert, has died. Another, Lawrence Freedman, once told me to my face he didnt believe peace existed, it was a chimera, only war is real. Having discovered it was set up as a Committee of the Privy Council I have myself written to the Privy Council Clerk and asked under freedom of information legislation whether it had any written terms of reference, only to be informed that it is not a Committee of The Privy Council per se, but only a Committee of Privy Council Members (you spot the difference) and therefore the information requested will not be forthcoming.. The key thing I have been trying to find out, is whether, if it had written terms of reference when it was set up, surely some kind of terminus ad quem must have been specified. otherwise, legally, it might defer publication for 100,000 years and we will all be long gone before it finally “publishes” In other words, the whole thing was intended right from the start to kick the issues into the long grass. I will therefore go on trying to find out if it had written terms of reference and what they said about timing. Chilcot gives the impression of being an honourable man (we both went to Brighton College, which certainly taught one to tell the truth as a matter of honour)) so one only hopes that in due course it will be published. If the report is highly critical of labour however, as can be expected, and labour win the next election, Chilcot might just be found swinging under a bridge at Blackfriars, and the whole thing get buried for ever… Just today the Chilcot Inquiry themselves have declined to answer my question about written terms of reference since ” The Chilcot Inquiry itself is not a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, so the Act does not apply.” So now we know.. nothing !
Then of course there was the Butler inquiry into the intelligence that led to the Iraq war. Its full name was The Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, and it was widely known as the Butler Review after its chairman Lord Robin Butler of Brockwell. It was announced on 3 February 2004 by the British Labour Government and published its findings on 4 July 2004 ( a miracle of efficiency). It examined the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction which played a key part in the Government’s decision to invade Iraq (as part of the U.S.-led coalition) in 2003. The Butler Inquiry’s remit did not however extend to an examination of the political decision making process and for this reason, the Liberal Democrats decided to not take part in the inquiry process at all. They could have had a member of the panel but instead boycotted it. In its conclusions, the report said that key intelligence used to justify the war with Iraq has been shown to be unreliable. It claimed that the Secret Intelligence Service did not check its sources well enough and sometimes relied on third hand reports. It found that there was an over-reliance on Iraqi dissident sources. It also commented that warnings from the Joint Intelligence Committee on the limitations of the intelligence were not made clear. Overall it said that “more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear”, and that judgements had stretched available intelligence “to the outer limits”. It said that there was no recent intelligence to demonstrate that Iraq was a greater threat than other countries, But of course, nobody was to blame for this farrago and Tony Blair carried on being Prime Minister until 2007, even winning another election in 2005. Perhaps the British people had simply lost their taste for truth, or had been mesmerised by a highly skilled actor/lawyer (is there a difference ?). I once heard Lord Butler give a talk about his experiences chairing this Inquiry at Dauntsey’s school in Wiltshire, and was able to put some questions to him in person. A fascinating evening.. especially given that I was reading about the strange death of David Kelly at the time by Norman Baker MP.. (which is a MUST read book by the way).
There was also around this time the Hutton inquiry into the Circumstances of the death of Dr David Kelly. Kelly, as you may remember, was a senior weapons inspector, who knew enough to KNOW that Iraq did not actually have a WMD programme, and therefore there was no possible justification for the UK / US invasion in 2003. and who had complained (privately) that the UK Labour Government had been lying when it alleged there was evidence (as in the “sexed up dossier”). Then he was found mysteriously dead, conveniently “suicided”. Interestingly, a letter written by Lord Hutton, who chaired the public inquiry into Dr Kelly’s death, shows he was asked to do the job just three hours after the Iraq weapons expert was found dead, on the morning of July 18, 2003, in woods close to his Oxfordshire home, shortly after he was exposed as the source of a BBC news report questioning the grounds for war in Iraq. At that point Kelly’s body had not even been formally identified and no cause of death had been as yet established ! Yet Blair had already got onto Hutton and said, through Lord Falconer, “You chair this one, matey”. The inquiry commenced on 11 August 2003. Many observers were surprised when Hutton delivered his report on 28 January 2004 which cleared the British Government in large part (surprise surprise). His criticism of the BBC was regarded by some as unduly harsh; one critic commented that he had given the “benefit of judgement to virtually everyone in the government and no-one in the BBC.” Bashing the BBC seems a popular sport in some circles. Apparently some mates of Jeremy Clarkson have sent death threats to the Director General. Apparently in these circles punching producers is just a bit of “fun”.
Enough. The point is, that all the above inquiries, some of which are still running, are simply clocking up fortunes for lawyers, and that’s about it. They are approaching the resurrection of truth piecemeal, like a kind of archaeological dig. The usual pattern is this: someone does something wrong (someone quite high up); years later it is half found out about; an inquiry is set up; some of the truth comes out, slowly and in stages (and very expensively). But often it doesn’t come out for years. By which time, most people have forgotten the wrong in the first place or just given up. To put it another way, corrupt elites maintain their hegemony by simply outlasting reformers (someone ought to do a sociological study of this – we’ll call it The Sociology of Truth and Untruth ?). Instead of this archaeological approach to truth (also advocated by Foucault, who said the job of the philosopher is to practice a kind of archaeology of truth) I am instead advocating a mass resurrection of truth. A sudden enlightenment Zen approach. A Lotus Sutra approach of incalculable numbers of beings being liberated simultaneously from lies to truth. I’m advocating public wisdom instead of secret intelligence. I’m talking Meta-Mahayana instead of Hinayana. I’m talking the Golden gate project. Bodies out of graves. The reawakening of truth project, big scale. that’s what all my work as a philosopher of peace has been about – read my books… listen to my Commentaries on the Quran, the Ketuvim and the Gospels. Then get up and dance.
I’ve written to the head of the Lawyers professional body in the UK and asked if lawyers are required to tell the truth in court, or not. In other words, can they knowingly lie, in order to make their clients “win” a case ? I haven’t received a reply. I suspect that nobody’s ever thought of asking this question before, and that the poor chap fell of his chair when he got it. Ironic isn’t it, when courts are supposed to find out the truth about what ordinary people do or don’t do – and yet lawyers themselves seem to regard themselves as “above the truth”. Likewise with policemen, who theoretically keep this whole justice system going, yet themselves are under no compunction whatsoever to tell the truth, apparently. Examples of dodgy lying policemen hit the papers every week. And they just go on getting away with it, it seems to me, apart from a few who get found out
It is precisely this sort of thing that has made me write, as a mere philosopher and teacher, to the leaders of all UK Political parties, and ask that they agree to a new Bill which would make veracity and truth telling compulsory on all official matters to all MP’s and holders of public office (judges, policemen, civil servants, quangocrats, NHS workers, teachers, academics, public scientists etc.) .. and if you tell a lie, (like a serious deliberate one, on a professionally related matter) you are automatically to lose office or your job..
But can our system stand the force of truth ? are we so used to living in a world of lies ? Gandhi called the worker for peace a Truth-Upholder (Satyagrahi). Indian philosophies talk of Sat-yuga, a coming age of truth. The Bill would make Veracity a legal duty on all public office holders from the Monarch down to the local bobby.. when I was growing up in the 1960’s I thought we lived in a such a country, and that everyone told the truth.. as I have grown older I realise that in fact people in power rarely do.. and that there is no actual legal requirement on them to do so.. how can representational democracy ever work if our political leaders can simply go on lying to us all.. and to each other ? I think this was Socrates’ point actually…
So here is my draft bill, and the letter which I enclosed when I sent it to all the UK political parties who have at least one members of Parliament.So far, I have had a few replies, but nobody has yet been enthusiastic enough to take it up a future legislation. I’m still waiting.
I have also written this letter as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Britain and Ireland, and I have realised that we are never going to get a full and final lasting peace settlement in Ireland as long as we don’t respect truth in the political culture of the British Isles.
Finally, I have also written it as Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Middle East, for exactly the same reason. How are we going to help solve the problems of Israel/Palestine/Iraq/Syria/Yemen/Egypt/Iran etc. etc. and help do our bit through the UN and the Commonwealth and the EU to bring about a culture of truth telling and reconciliation in the Middle East, if we in our own back yard are also running a duplicitous political system ? So I am hoping if we in the UK can adopt a Bill of Veracity like this, then then it might spread to other countries. I have got colleagues in South Africa and the USA for instance, working on seeing something similar emerge on their own statute books. Hopefully Canada too..
But I am doing this merely as a philosopher. Quakers say the duty of the Christian is to tell “truth to power”. Christians talk of the Holy Spirit as the power of truth (alethia). Muslims say that Muhammed was also inspired by the Holy Spirit. Sufis say the truth is within us all (Al Haqq) and is a divine quality, one of the 99 Names of God. Hindus talks of Satya Yuga as the next great event in world history, to be ushered in by Kalki. Buddhists talk of Dharma as the supreme moral law, which is moral truth. Jains revere truth and Dharma as much as Buddhists athough recognising truth is many-sided. Druids are “truth Seers” in etymological origination, or “Dharma-knowers”. In Judaism, truth is the quintessential heart of the Qabalistic wisdom which the sage has to attain in order to reach spiritual enlightenment, and enables an authentic I-Thou relationship to occur, based on actual love. Gandhi called his autobiography Experiments With Truth. Coming in the same month that saw a statue of Gandhi erected outside the UK Parliament, you could call this Veracity Bill proposal a further experiment with truth. Lets see if anybody even notices its importance in the weeks leading up to the general election. I predict that if any party actually adopts this Bill and stands behind it, they will win the election – because I think the British people are getting sick of being treated like mumpkins by dishonest politicians (think Jack Straw and Macolm Rifkind selling their address books to the faux-Chinese) who think they can go on getting away with it. Wake up people. Ask your candidates at this election if they will support this Truth Bill if elected into office …
These politicians have had long enough to reply to me by now. That’s why I am now going pubic with this, three weeks after I emailed it to every single political party leader in person.
here’s the text of the Bill and letter, as promised:
DR. THOMAS DAFFERN, B.A. PGCE, PHD, DSc. (Hon)
Director, International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy,
Castle of the Muses, Craigard, Carrick Castle, Loch Goil, Argyll & Bute, PA24 8AG, Scotland, firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.educationaid.net http://www.facebook.com/Institute of Peace Studies http://www.youtube.com/IIPSGP1
01301 703053 Mobile: 07500 238523
March 11, 2015
Dear Party Political Leader,
I am writing to propose a revolutionary new bill that should be passed through parliament, which at one stroke, could solve the political malaise felt throughout our country. Young people today are alienated from the political party process which is at the heart of parliamentary democracy, and tend to retreat into a world of cyber-reality where conspiracy theory has replaced political theory as their intellectual activity of first choice. One result of this is the increasing number of terrorist attacks and young people joining up with terrorist groups such as ISIS.
My proposed bill text is drafted as follows :
Be it enacted by the Lords, spiritual and temporal and by the Commons here assembled, that a new bill be brought forward concerning THE VERACITY OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT AND HOLDERS OF PUBLIC OFFICE BILL.
An Act to make provision in relation to the Veracity of Members of Parliament ; to ensure that members of parliament adhere to the strict ethical and legal duties of being a member of parliament in regard to giving truthful answers to all questions put to them in their official capacity, either orally or in writing; to make provision for the dismissal and recall of members of parliament if proven by an investigative committee of independent jurors drawn from outside parliament to have lied either deliberately or unwittingly. The purpose of this act is to enshrine in law the 6th principle of Public Life, Honesty, which states that Holders of public office should be truthful.
Be it enacted by the Queen’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lord’s spiritual and temporal and Commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows; –
1. Legal obligation laid on members of parliament to give truthful answers to all written and oral questions on matters concerning their official roles :
a) All members of the House of Commons are hereby required to speak the truth in response to questions put to them by any UK citizen whatsoever, on matters of official business either in writing or orally.
b) If found to have dissimulated, lied, obfuscated, falsely denied, prevaricated or otherwise mendaciously attempted to deflect the questioner, or to dissuade from asking the question, then a formal procedure would be inaugurated whereby an independent investigative committee on parliamentary truth standards would be convened to consider the evidence for mendacity.
c) If the charge of mendacity were upheld and proven to a high degree of likelihood, the Member Of Parliament would be automatically sent back or recalled to their constituency and a fresh election triggered for the said constituency.
d) Private and personal matters would be excluded from this provision, except so far in that they have bearing on matters of State or the business of government. Financial matters and other professional matters that have bearing on their official roles however would be included.
e) All members of the House of Lords likewise are hereby required to speak the truth in response to questions put to them by any UK citizen whatsoever, on matters of official business either in writing or orally.
f) All members of local councils and local authorities or their executive officers or staff are hereby required to speak the truth in response to questions put to them by any UK citizen whatsoever, on matters of official business either in writing or orally.
g) All government employees, members and officers of government bodies, committees and quangos and all civil servants, are hereby required to speak the truth in response to questions put to them by any British citizen whatsoever, on matters of official business either in writing or orally.
h) All members of the Royal Household and the Privy Council, the armed forces and all other agencies of the British state are likewise so required to speak the truth in response to questions put to them by any British citizen whatsoever, on matters of official business either in writing or orally.
i) Matters of national security concerning which questions might be put, would have to be argued before the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) as being genuinely matters which cannot be answered in public. Truthful answers would however still have to be given to all such requests to a special committee of the Parliamentary Standards Committee, who would have the final say on whether to make the answer public or to communicate it to the respondent.
j) All holders of Public office, including those mentioned above, and also anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes people who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and all people appointed to work in: the civil service, local government, the police, the courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies, health, education, social and care services. The principle of honesty also apply to all those in other sectors that deliver public services.
2.The procedures for the calling of Parliamentary Investigative Truth Committees would be under the auspices of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL)
3.The jurors of the Parliamentary Truth Committees would be taken by random lot chosen from the official jury rolls of Westminster. No jurors would serve on more than one such Parliamentary Investigative Committee
4.The juries of other officials to be established in each local parliamentary constituency and to be formed of ad hoc members taken by lot from the local jury rolls.
5.The Oaths (or Affirmations) taken for formal and official office would be updated to reflect this new obligation of Veracity on taking up appointment.
6. If any holder of public office or government official has been found to have dissimulated, lied, obfuscated, falsely denied, prevaricated or otherwise mendaciously attempted to deflect the questioner, or to dissuade from asking the question, and a formal procedure has concluded there is affirmative evidence for mendacity, then the official concerned would be required to resign from office immediately, with one months severance pay only permitted.
7. This principle of honesty runs parallel to Parliamentary Privilege laws and privileges. Members of parliament are no longer permitted to make untrue accusations, deliberately lying, against fellow parliamentarians. Henceforth they are required to observe the principle of honesty if they wish to accuse their colleagues of wrong doing.
8.The new legal duty of veracity imposed by this Bill on all holders of Public Office cannot be refused by hiding behind “freedom of information” legislation. There are no cost ceilings involved in truth–telling. Nor can public officials refuse to respond honestly to questions on the grounds of “confidentiality” except without giving very good grounds to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL).
9. Frivolous, time-wasting and vexatious questions soliciting nonsensical information in inappropriate ways would be dealt with according to their desserts, and costs accrued to the frivolous questioner. Common sense rules would apply (eg what colour tie did you wear on December 19th 2014).
The above text gives enough of an idea of the proposal. I trust that this is something which could be considered carefully by you in your role as head of a political party operating in the UK. The key point is to introduce into British democracy a clear legal requirement of veracity, without exception, prevarication or obfuscation.
There is a tremendous truth deficit in British political life at present, and many of our younger citizens, to repeat, have become alienated from the very processes of democracy.
The passage of a bill such as that proposed, would give a considerable fillip to all those suffering from this malaise.
I imagine a very great many charity and NGO groups, policy groups, think tanks and other academic centres of political science, students, teachers and political thinks would be interested to support this proposed bill.
I should explain that as an academic and teacher myself, I have taught political philosophy at London and Oxford Universities, and been head of citizenship, philosophy and religious education in many secondary schools throughout the UK.
I would be pleased to discuss this idea in more detail with you if you want.
My concern of this communication is to elicit a personal response from you as head of a UK political party as to whether you would be in support of this bill in principle and in practice were it to come before Parliament, and on what grounds ? Would your party be prepared to sponsor and support this Bill’s passage through the Commons either BEFORE parliament breaks up for the general Election or AFTERWARDS ? I believe this is a matter of such gravity that it should be passed before parliament breaks up, and also, that this is a strictly trans-party political issue that all bona fide political parties can and ought to support 100%. Of course there may be technical issues with the drafting of the bill but I am sure with good will they could be easily surmounted. If the present coalition government, which made a great trumpet of introducing new ethical standards into parliament when it took office, were to sponsor this bill, then it could surely pass into law before the ending of this parliament.
The legislation of this bill would apply equally to all parts of the UK so there is no need to pass identical bills in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A similar bill would however have to be passed in the European Parliament since many European officials and bureaucrats deal with matters directly relating to the UK, and it would certainly be to the long term advantage of the European Union if such a legal requirement for veracity were introduced in that arena. But first let’s get it through in the UK.
I am sure that I speak for the vast majority of UK citizens in saying that the passage of this bill before the election season gets underway would be a matter of great rejoicing to the electorate of the UK, and may well reinvigorate a sense of participation in our democratic process, particular among our younger citizens.
Yours in peace and service,
Dr Thomas Clough Daffern