Last week when George Osborne chose to announce his plans for the RBS sell off at a dinner party at Mansion House (the official residence of the Mayor of London) I was a little surprised. Under the coalition Government I heard Mr Osborne interviewed on both the Marr show and Radio 4’s Today Programme and he always refused to give up details of his latest budget or other issue he was known to be discussing in private. His stated reason was that he intended to speak first in Parliament, as it is to Parliament to which he was accountable. It appears that as far as this Government is concerned, Parliament does not matter and Mr Osborne will instead be held accountable to bankers and others who are more important than MPs and more relevant to him than Andrew Marr, John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie or you and I as listeners or watchers. Indeed he could not even be bothered to attend Parliament himself and instead sent a junior Minister. Perhaps that is simply a reality check, perhaps this is how things have always been, but only now that the Tories have a majority that they are willing to be this blatant about their ideas on accountability.
I am not alone in feeling concerned about this approach. My local MP, Caroline Lucas asked the following question on 11th June, when instead of the Chancellor, it was Harriett Baldwin, the Economics Secretary to the Treasury who was sent to Parliament to explain what the Chancellor had already announced to the Lord Mayor and his unelected guests.
“I, too, welcome the hon. Lady to her post. Will she tell us whether the Chancellor intends to make a habit of announcing policy to a roomful of bankers, based on a secret review by an investment bank with no public consultation? Did he even consider the alternatives, such as turning RBS into a network of local stakeholder banks, like they have in so many other countries, as a perfect example of localism in practice?”
The response from Mrs Baldwin was
“I think my right hon. Friend was delighted to be invited back to the Mansion House to make a speech again this year. The question the hon. Lady asks about locally owned banks indicates that she favours a system of public ownership of our banking sector which, overall, the Government disagree with.”
Clearly the Government does not respect opposition MPs like Caroline Lucas, who I am sure was dissatisfied with the answer she received. My own frustration with the Chancellor over this sense of betrayal is clearly not going to matter to him. However next time a Conservative Party member pontificates about accountability or despairs at how few people engage in the democratic process I hope they will understand if they don’t get a warm reception from me.