When our servants are really our masters

In a comment thread on EU Referendum about the scandal – there is no more fitting word for it – of actions by authorities and social services being kept a legally enforced secret, even if an injustice has been perpetrated, that prevents even parents discussing any aspect of a family case, Dr Richard North drew parallels with his series of posts about the Battle of Britain, saying:

What is fascinating about the Battle of Britain narrative is that it demonstrates, amongst other things, that when officials are given control over information, they always abuse it, primarily to protect themselves from scrutiny.

Rarely has there been a more accurate comment.  Then as now, officials abuse their control of information and knowledge to suit their own interests rather than those of the public they are supposed to serve.  The latest incarnation of this insipid abuse hails from the NHS.

Threats, bribery, recriminations.  Ruined careers and destroyed reputations.  Good people forced from their jobs and even having to relocate overseas in some cases because they have been sullied by their vengeful superiors for speaking out.  And why?  To hide the truth from us and maintain deceptions.

It should be impossible in this day and age for public servants to abuse their control of information.  But the fact is it’s endemic.  It’s as if there is a peculiar mindset corrupting senior leaders in public organisations that necessitates the concealment of facts or effective misrepresentation of them.  Information is power and our servants believe the people must not be allowed access to either.  When they are able to do this they cease to be our servants and assume the role of our masters.

1 Response to “When our servants are really our masters”


  1. 1 Tufty 03/08/2010 at 12:00 pm

    If an environment rewards people who behave in a certain way, then that is the way they will behave. Not only that, but they will sincerely believe in what they are doing, however unethical their behaviour seems to be from outside their particular controlling environment.

    This is a basic finding of behavioural psychology, yet decades later, we still do not seem to understand how important it is to engineer our environments in such a way that unethical behaviour is not rewarded. Usually, all that is required is transparency. Secrecy and confidentiality are fundamentally undesirable and until we learn how extremely undesirable they really are, then these things will go on and on. There is no such thing as autonomous behaviour. We need to admit it.


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