This Secrative Government

The Government and institutions frequently withhold information, even on issues of the utmost importance to the public interest, simply for the convenience of ministers and civil servants. From time to time we become aware of the institutional secrecy.

  1. CRU, virtually a public body, showed signs of the canteen culture when they refused to release scientific data (against all the ethics of science research).
  2. BBC’s Panorama reported that more than 60% of NHS hospital trusts provide the public with inaccurate information about their performance.
  3. The Government has made a shambles of Afghanistan and recklessly under-resourced the whole adventure. This is embarrassing for Gordon Brown so front line access is to be denied to the media ahead of polling day, lest reporters discover things that further damage the Government.
  4.  Evidence has emerged that the huge increase in immigration to Britain since 1997 was endorsed by New Labour in pursuit of its own political ends. Blair believed a large influx of immigrants would irreversibly alter the character of Britain towards becoming a multicultural and more left-leaning society. Not only was any hint of such motives concealed at the time, but documentation on this supremely sensitive issue remains to this day locked in Whitehall files.
  5. The 2008 Gulf fiasco inquiry was classified, on security grounds to save the blushes of the Government and Navy top brass.
  6. The best of the lot was the MP’s expenses scandal. From beginning to end, MPs fought tooth and nail to prevent the disclosure of their abuse of public funds. Their rearguard action was led by the then Speaker, the appalling Michael Martin who struggled to conceal first the details of his own excesses and then those of hundreds of MPs.

It is striking to contrast the manner in which this country conducts its official business with that of the United States. Across the Atlantic, there is an overwhelming presumption in favour of disclosure. Congressional committees constantly demand – and receive – information about the inner workings of government departments that in Britain would never be revealed to their parliamentary counterparts. In the U.S. the Freedom of Information Act really means what it claims – an ordinary individual can exercise a right to be shown material, not least about themselves, which would be denied over here.

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