The news was on in the background. I was paying little attention. But I caught the following. It was Wikileaks, and some be-suited mandarin commented: “It was a private conversation between the United States ambassador and the King of Saudi Arabia. A private conversation!”
That’s what’s wrong today. This dislocation between public servants and what they are. They are public servants paid by the public to serve the public. By what right does an ambassador believe he can keep from his employers, us, what he says on our behalf to foreign dignitaries? He cannot and must not.
This absurd arrogance is rampant in all democracies, and all levels of bureaucracy. From members of parliament fiddling their expenses and being annoyed when found out; to park keepers officiously and offensively saying where we can and cannot walk on the land we own and upkeep with our taxes; to the policemen who strike legal demonstrators with vicious sticks that we pay for, even when fallen. The list goes on and on and on.
Public servants need to be held to account. They have to do what we want, whether they are presidents, prime ministers or park keepers, or be sacked. But they seek to protect themselves with secrecy. Secrecy that leads to illegal wars that kill thousands upon thousands of people. Secrecy that leads to our money propping up banks and bankers who prefer to pocket it rather than lend it back to us. Secrecy that leads to health scares that lead to our money stockpiling drugs that aren’t necessary, aren’t wanted and aren’t used.
Only by breaking this cult of secrecy, this bureaucratic arrogance, and by making our servants accept that they are our servants and not our masters will we maintain democracy. And only Wikileaks seems capable of doing this. So rock on, Wikileaks: you are a greater defender of democracy than those we pay to defend it.