‘I’ Newspaper Reports Cabinet Secretary Happy with Freedom of Information Legislation

Today’s ‘I’ newspaper has a report on page 4 that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who declared that some elements of the FOI Act have “a chilling effect” on the workings of government, is now ‘broadly happy with the way the current rules operate’. This is apparently despite the accusations that he has been accused of advocating that the public’s right to government information should be diluted under the current government review into its operation. The article also states that the Civil Service has also made no representations about the review.

I’ve repeatedly covered on here the struggle Mike over at Vox Political, and the efforts other disabled people and carers, to gain access to the figures on the number of people, who have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS and their successor, Maximus. As I said in my last blog post, they have been repeatedly denied the information by the DWP. Their reasonable requests have been turned down as ‘vexatious’, and even when they have launched a successful appeal, the government has stonewalled, delayed releasing the information, appealed against the Information Commissioner’s decision, and finally deliberately supplied the wrong information.

Private Eye has also made an FOI request to gather information on the vast amounts of British land that is now held by offshore companies. And guess what? They have similarly been turned down on the grounds that their request is also ‘vexatious’.

This is not open government. This is a return to the kind of Whitehall secrecy that was regularly portrayed and lampooned in the classic comedy series, Yes, Minister. With the exception that we don’t have a premier as fundamentally well-meaning and likable as Jim Hacker, the bumbling Minister for Administrative Affairs. And even the Machiavellian and suavely devious Sir Humphrey was more benign in his way than the current crew of official bandits and snobs now in government. If Jeremy Heywood is happy with the way Freedom of Information Act operates, then this is hardly an endorsement. Quite the opposite. He is happy, because the government is denying people information.

Mike and the disabled have suffered it.
Private Eye is now suffering it.
Johnny Void has made it very clear that those campaigning against workfare have suffered it.

And the government has stated that they are opposed to giving the public information, as they use it to attack government decisions, when they should really be putting up with it all and simply use the information to understand how the decisions are made.

This is not ‘freedom of information’ under any except the most limited definition of the term. The cabinet and the senior civil service are natural elitists and authoritarians, who object to public involvement in government with every fibre of their being. As for the review into FOIA, it is being led by two of the worst authoritarians in government. One of these is the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who has stated that the Freedom of Information Act was a terrible mistake.

This is disgusting. The review should be terminated immediately. Or better yet, its members and leaders should be sacked, and a new one drafted, which would demand greater transparency. But that won’t happen until we get to the fundamental problem: the Conservative government and its wretched collaborators, like Heywood.

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