It is now becoming a regular event that whenever I see or hear the news programmes I think of ‘whitewash’. When I was a child whitewash was what we painted the outside (and only) toilet with, since it was a single-course brick building in the yard lacking lighting and heating, a bright white splash of whitewash provided the aura of light and cleanliness, and also filled in the small cracks in the mortar. Of course it neither cured the lack of light nor improved the hygiene, it just made you feel better when sat there fulfilling one’s bodily functions.
In the wonderful “The Song of the Whitewash” by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler from the 1934 production of “Roundheads and Pointedheads” that was later recorded by Dagmar Krause on Tank Battles in 1989, we are provided with real feeling for the way that politicians employ whitewash as a stop gap, rather than delivering real social change. With the numerous cover-ups surfacing in 2012, which received the whitewashed political response that ‘but that was then – things have changed’, I can only see another coat of whitewash on the pig sty. “Something to prevent the public spotting everything is crumbling in their sight”.
Am I being too negative? I hope not, but whitewash changes little apart from providing the appearance of change. Openness and transparency may assist real change but again they too are subject to more than the occasional coat of whitewash, which is confirmed by an interview with Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, who criticises both the current UK government and the previous one, of which she was part, along with the civil service for failing to be transparent. But with the Saville case, Hillsborough and the many other cover-ups now under re-investigation I’m convinced that ‘armchair auditors’ won’t have any effect and emphasise the need for truly open and transparent governance by politicians and business leaders.