I NEVER had Boris Johnson down as the sort of person to take a monk-like vow of silence, yet strangely enough that is what he seems to have done.
Our hitherto voluble and highly-visible Prime Minister has gone oddly quiet, and so have the people around him, like the usually loquacious Michael Gove.
There are probably many members of the public glad to have a break from politicians parroting constantly on the airwaves, especially after the protracted saga of Brexit, but there is actually real cause for concern in the way the Government is failing to communicate. Quietly, and without fanfare, it has pulled off the remarkable trick of avoiding being held to account by closing down channels of communication.
A drawbridge has been pulled up, and the flow of information about what the Government is up to choked off from its usual torrent to a trickle.
There will be a burst of activity on Thursday, when a reshuffle of Ministers is announced, but then afterwards it will be back to the business of tight control over what comes out of Downing Street. This amounts to a deliberate policy of avoiding scrutiny, and the consequent lack of accountability ought to be a major concern about the transparency of Government.
Political programmes on both television and radio are increasingly free of Cabinet Ministers, instead being forced to fall back on vocal backbenchers who have formerly held office because no genuinely senior figures who can outline policy – or face tough questions – are being made available.
Control freakery is at work here, and it tells us a lot about the Prime Minister. His sales pitch to the country was as an open, accessible politician who spoke plainly, even if that ruffled feathers.
But in office, he’s strangely closed and uncommunicative, refusing to submit to detailed questioning and granting next to no interviews.
A shield has gone up to keep the media out, and his Cabinet are hardly more visible.
In recent weeks, only the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has been prominent and that only because outrage over terrorist attacks by prisoners released early demanded that the Government takes action. Even so, she has not put herself up for interview. Statements have been made but no questions permitted.
One key reason the Government has been able to get away with changing the rules of engagement with the public is Labour’s disarray. The Opposition is failing completely in its job of holding the Government to account. In Jeremy Corbyn, it has a leader whose authority is in tatters, and the party is so preoccupied with who will succeed him that it is giving the Government a free ride.
This is a very unhealthy state of affairs for our country, especially given the size of Boris Johnson’s Parliamentary majority means that he can push through legislation at will.
Scrutiny matters even more, both inside and outside Parliament. Mr Johnson and his Cabinet need to explain and justify their policies, but a barrier has been placed between politics and the public.
The media is being shut out and sidelined, and that should set alarm bells ringing for the electorate who have a right to know what is going on and hear those who govern questioned – not from any partisan viewpoint, but fairly and objectively, so the public can make up their own minds.
By avoiding interviews, the Government is failing to engage with Britain’s people in the way it is duty bound to. The way our politics works is by an open and honest engagement with the public, and the press, television and radio is the conduit for that.
If that channel of communications is deliberately compromised, which is happening currently, the public are the losers. What they are left with is bald statements from those in power, presented as fact, which are not challenged.
If what they have to say stands up to scrutiny, that’s fine. Honest and straightforward politicians with sound, well thought-through policies have nothing to fear from forensic questioning.
Indeed, they gain from it. Levels of public trust in politicians increase if they are seen to be on top of their jobs and unafraid to justify what they are doing.
But if the policies are shaky and the people presenting them not up to the mark or evasive, Britain has a right to know – and that right is being denied by the Government’s lack of engagement.
Mr Johnson will find this is a tactic that will backfire on him. Trust in politicians has yet to recover from the battering it took during the Brexit debate. Once the public wakes up to how keen the Government is to avoid proper scrutiny, it can only result in suspicion of the people running our country.