Outrageously stroked by political journalists – who shamelessly misrepresent them as powerful – the committees hold public inquiries into the government’s response to important issues.
Many members of the committees do a very fine job but sadly, that’s where their influence and power stop. Committee reports are either politely rubbished by Whitehall because they are inconvenient – or warmly welcomed because they have swallowed its opinions, hook, line and sinker. So, robbed of any weapons but sound and fury, members unleash the hounds of jaw-jaw by feeding the media dollops of steaming rhetoric.
The trouble is that bad habits are contagious. Take the London Assembly’s investigation into the events of 7/7. In a catastrophe, no plans work perfectly, and few work well. The inevitable internal reviews must always be set alongside constructive external scrutiny to ensure a robust learning process. Therefore the report is undoubtedly a good and necessary document. But like a select committee, its authors have no executive role in the management of the events they scrutinise.
And so the report was published last week after a couple of weeks of selective leaking, apparently by someone at the assembly. Furthermore, no advance embargoed copies were provided to help the news media absorb its 149 pages before the press conference. And that event was laden with Westminster-style rhetoric and gloom.
This matters, because London’s reputation as a good place in which to live and work is important to our national wellbeing. Worldwide, studies praised our emergency services and related authorities: indeed, London deserved to sustain its reputation as a world-class city with world-class resilience in the face of such horror.
Of course, it was unacceptable that delays were caused by sloth or inaction in the face of previous lessons. But we needed a dispassionate, public reminder. The only people who needed the GLA’s spin were our enemies.