Why did Cameron’s and Clegg’s Palace business have to be conducted in secret?

I was pretty grumpy on Monday when I was watching the rolling news coverage. First of all, the BBC had live reporting from Westminster, the only place in the country you wouldn’t find any politicians following the dissolution of Parliament. Ok, so they did find Simon Hughes, but they could have headed a couple of miles down the road to go to him.

Then there were people reporting from Downing Street long after everyone had departed to ht the campaign trail.

But what made my blood boil was the aerial shots of Buckingham Palace broadcast as David Cameron and Nick Clegg made their visits there. We all know what it looks like. The BBC and Sky didn’t really need to spend money on a helicopter to give us pictures of one of the most familiar sites in the country if not the world.

Why on earth were  we not able to see what was going on inside? What’s with the mystery? It wasn’t very exciting, but we weren’t even given a photograph of the occasions. Cameron met first with the Queen, although that was pretty much a waste of time given that the dissolution of Parliament is an automatic process these days. Then Nick Clegg met with the Privy Council he chairs to carry out the necessary formality. When I say chairs, there actually aren’t any as the meetings are traditionally held with everyone standing to make them shorter. 

It seems ridiculous that in the 21st century we the public are kept out of meetings like this. I’m not suggesting that the PM’s regular audiences with the Queen should be recorded, because those are private conversations. It is perfectly legitimate for the PM and Head of State to meet in private. However, there is something that grates about a simple but important event n national life taking place behind closed doors.

Why shouldn’t cameras be allowed at Privy Council meetings, though? Even if some business has to be private, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see who is taking the decisions?

There is still a presumption in favour of keeping the people away in too many of the traditions of our state. And nowhere is that more true than in the relationship between the monarchy and government. I disagreed with Nick Clegg last week on the issue of Prince Charles’ letters. If I wrote to a minister, even a Lib Dem one, I’d be ignored. If Prince Charles is going to make use of the privileges of his position, then there should be transparency about it. One of the more unfortunate measures of the Coalition was to give the Royal Family an absolute exemption from the Freedom of Information Act which is not in my view a healthy step. If we have to have a monarchy, then it should be one that is much more open. Andrew Page had more over at A Scottish Liberal:

Perhaps, instead of supporting Prince Charles’ right to privacy, it might have been more fitting for a Liberal Democrat leader to instead congratulate The Guardian on its outstanding 10-year campaign and recognise the significance of this ruling from the perspective of both transparency in public life and Freedom of Information.

Councillor Mathew Hulbert, Co-Ordinator of Lib Dems For A Republic, says ”I’m really surprised to hear Nick Clegg defending Prince Charles’s letters to Ministers remaining private. Charles isn’t writing as a private person to his local MP, he’s writing to Ministers in his capacity as second in line to the throne. We, therefore, should have a right to know what he’s been saying and what his views are. If these letters display an obvious political bias, then all the more reason they should see the light of day, so people can see that their future Monarch is anything but an impartial figure floating above politics

It’s time to look at the message that our traditions and protocols send out about the relationship between the people and the state. This is far from the most important issue of the day, but in five years’ time I want to see more of these meetings than an aerial photograph.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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10 Comments

  • Agree with you Caron.

    Also, having watched Coalition [poor Clegg didn’t come out if very well] the whole horse-trading manipulation and game playing of making coalitions needs to be got rid of and something more transparent set up.
    Everything should be out in the open, all negotiations in public, all recorded.

    If Clegg were genuine about wanting new, more honest and transparent politics surely he would have worked to getting something like that set up ?

    What we got last time [& will get this time if there is no clear majority] feeds voter discontent about the whole squalid system.

    & finally, Ashcroft’s polling in Hallam show Clegg still in trouble, under the party rules would he still be leader the next day if he is no longer an MP ?

  • Caron, Really? Expecting a politician to forego a photo opportunity at the palace is like, well, expecting a politician to forego a photo opportunity at the palace

  • Tony Greaves 1st Apr '15 - 4:15pm

    I don’t think PC meetings have more than two or three people at them. Most members apparently never attend any meetings after they have got their Rt Hon badge. It’s mainly about precedence in the Commons (which is in itself a disgrace).

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 1st Apr '15 - 4:53pm

    The idea that coalition negotiations can be in public is nonsense. If they were, with people formally sat around a table, the real negotiations would take place in private before the formal meetings. What could be done however is a series of factual statements at the end of each day.

    Tony

  • I don’t think it is nonsense. Things should be open and clear, both before and after an election.
    If politicians still want to do behind the scenes shenannigans, then I go Stalinist and suggest prosecution.
    [Not entirely joking].

    I know you’ve been a voice of dissent, and can surely see one of the reasons the party is so damaged is because of the
    negotations. Clegg begging Brown to stay so he could trick the Tories into more concessions, that was damning.

  • Obvious that Clegg could not lead in Commons if he wasn’t an MP. But note that Paddy Power politics has him at 2/5 , so odds on to hold the seat. That is where the smart money is, for those who can afford to risk it.

  • Terry

    Hope you didn’t take the 2/5. Paddy Power best prices are now Clegg 1/2 and Labour 6/4. But if you shop around you can Clegg 4/7 and Labour13/8.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 2nd Apr '15 - 10:18am

    At least Clegg opened eyes for issues of transparency to be resolved before any future coalition !

  • I agree with Caron on her general reaction to Monday’s helicopter pantomime to film a couple of limousines driving round the block.
    It is usually quicker to walk the few hundred metres from Downing Street through St James’ Park to Buckingham Palace.
    One might have thought that the Greenest Government in history might have thought twice about a brace of limousines and helicopters, and thought aout setting a good example.
    It really was not worth the additional carbon footprint for a meaningless piece of ritual that nobody knows or cares .

    the Queen was also in the news the following day. The Guardian carried an interesting report on Tuesday about the pay of the royal staff at Windsor. The starting pay is very low, below the living wage for the South East.

    The starting figure £14,400 per year.

    The Queen receives state welfare benefits for herself of around £300 Million per year.

    Shame she cannot pay her staff a living wage.

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