Andrew Lewer MP Column: What the Post Office scandal tells us about Britain

In the past few weeks the Post Office/Horizon scandal has exploded following the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office. The subsequent anger from the general public was palpable and launched the scandal to a level of awareness across the country that few issues ever achieve.
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From the press exposes and evidence from the public inquiry of coverups from senior management of both the Post Office and the Horizon supplier, Fujitsu, it is likely that criminal proceedings will most probably follow.

But why and how did the public anger form so quickly and with such force? Some MPs have been doggedly pursuing the matter for many years, notable my friends Duncan Baker MP& Sir David Davies MP. The facts have not changed, but it did take the ITV drama to break it through to the public. Perhaps the last time we felt anything comparable was around the Iraq War Hutton Inquiry in 2003 and the scandal of the ‘dodgy dossier’ when the intelligence analysis that provided the evidence whether go to war against Iraq was ‘sexed-up’.

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This culminated with the suicide of Government Scientist David Kelly and the resignation of Tony Blair’s Press Secretary Alistair Campbell. The reverberations of this scandal were long and deep and ultimately severely damaged the reputation of Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell which still haunts them today.

Andrew Lewer MP at the University Post OfficeAndrew Lewer MP at the University Post Office
Andrew Lewer MP at the University Post Office

I think there are deeper currents at play. This is not just about the Post Office or Fujitsu. The general public have a deep sense of fair play and natural justice, yet what they see being played out is feeding into a deeper and wider well of unease of a public sector system that is not working in their interests. It has become aloof and

dismissive of democratic oversight and even some of that democratic representation has become a problem. Trust is eroding and this is dangerous territory.

We are paying more tax than ever to pay for public services yet they feel like they are becoming more remote and increasingly unresponsive to our needs. Our ‘elites’ like former Post Office CEO Paula Vernells was awarded a CBE even though her role in the Horizon scandal was well known.

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In Scotland, the Scottish Covid Inquiry has discovered that the SNP Government was privately discussing how to weaponise the Covid crisis for its political aims to break up the United Kingdom, yet publicly denying it. Publicly, SNP Ministers and Senior Civil Servants said they would hand over WhatsApp messages to the Covid Inquiry, yet in private they agreed to delete said messages. Nicola Sturgeon and those Ministers and Civil Servants may find themselves facing criminal charges.

My mailbox, post Covid lockdown, was awash with constituents struggling to access a GP. A local surgery in the constituency refused to meet with me to discuss the issue, such was their hubris & despite a planned Care Quality Commission Inspection judging them to be inadequate. I could add to this the lack of NHS dentist provision in town, which I am currently campaigning on.

It feels like it is costing more to get less and yet taxes are so high. The anger and outrage over the Post Office Scandal erupted, because we recognised the victims.

Although such scandals and a general sense of malaise does make the role of an MP more difficult it also serves to underline the significance of the role and redoubles my

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commitment to try and get fair play for my constituents. It is a partnership, or course, and especially key to that is the role of local councillors. Having served as one for many years and now being in my 21st year of elected office I believe more than ever that democratic accountability and its enforcement within – and sometimes against – “the system” is the best hope for improvements to the services we all rely on and the society we all want to build.

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