By Mark Wallace
Today's attack piece in the Guardian against Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, is many things. It is certainly a lazy attempt to smear a decent man as a racist. It is potentially a worrying bit of political campaigning by supposedly impartial public servants (of which more later). Most concerningly, it is an attack on the very idea of parliamentary scrutiny of quangos.
Mr Davies' crime was to write 19 letters over 21 months to Trevor Phillips of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, querying the EHRC's work and requesting clarification of what the MP saw as inconsistencies in the implementation of politically correct rules and laws.
The EHRC is one of Britain's most prominent and controversial quangos. It acts as an educator, a political campaign and a prosecutor in one of the most contentious areas of public policy - equalities and political correctness. It spends millions of pounds of taxpayers' money and is charged with regulating the behaviour of millions of people.
It is not just legitimate for an MP to be scrutinising such a body - it should be a requirement of anyone sitting in Parliament! Philip Davies was doing his duty and his job in querying the Commission's work, and the real scandal is that so few of his colleagues follow his lead.
We have 1,152 quangos in Britain, and barely any of them ever have to account to elected representatives of the people about the work they do in our name and with our money.
They should really, of course, be made to appear before committees of MPs on a regular basis. However, in the absence of such formal scrutiny, Philip Davies did the right thing by doing it himself by letter. If only more MPs did the same, we might get better value and better performance from the opaque quango sector.
Today's attack should call the behaviour of these quangocrats into question, too.
The Guardian's article claims that they obtained the correspondence between Mr Davies and the EHRC through a Freedom of Information request. Speaking from extensive experience of using FOI to scrutinise public bodies, the likelihood of such a fruitful request being targeted so well purely by chance is almost nonexistent.
This suggests that the Guardian (or perhaps the dubious Society of Black Lawyers who are quoted in the story) may have been guided by someone inside the Commission as to what to ask. If so, then this whole episode takes on a more scandalous tone, one of quangocrats who have got so out of control that they have started campaigning to harm MPs who dare scrutinise them.
Surely the EHRC wouldn't effectively leak an MP's letters to the media with the spin that in criticising them he is some kind of racist? Surely the Guardian wouldn't take part in such a political smear campaign by public servants who are meant to be strictly impartial? Would they?