Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is Honesty best, or unwise?

This mash-up, or at least the last 20 seconds, is from an interview during the 2005 Election Campaign where Paxman repeatedly asked Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, the question "So, you have no idea how many illegal immigrants there are in the country". Blair repeatedly dodged giving the simple and obvious answer that he didn't know. While fun to watch any politician squirm, in a sense it is obvious he would not know, if they are illegally entering the country there is no-one in a position to count them in. But admitting he did not know would give the wrong impression; hence he fudged and squirmed!

This is the old way, we have a new Prime Minister advocating an open style of cabinet and parliamentary government. On the subject of revising the time limit for detaining a terror subject, and whether a specific period was decided on, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she did not know and it was not yet decided, when speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. This led to a very damaging set of points to be raised on BBC News 24 of why she may avoid this question when the extension from 28 to 56 days had been mentioned already. The cabinet had not decided what to put before parliament is one interpretation, but the fact that a Minister said they did not know became big news.

So what kind of politicians do we want. Ones who are honest and admit not knowing everything, or ones that fudge and obfuscate? Should the media decide that there must always be an answer and then interpret the answer to suit an anti-politician agenda. Is the media spin? Or is it political spin to give the impression of openness? The public are left to wonder, but also encouraged to trust 'I don't know' as much as the less informative squirming around the issue.

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