Posts Tagged ‘Cabinet Secretary’

38 Degrees Internet Group Want the Views of the Public before Meeting the Government

January 18, 2016

I got this message from the internet petitioning group, 38 Degrees. They’re appealing to their members to give their views on the changes to the Freedom of Information Act before one of the organisers of the petition, Blanche Shackleton, meets the government on Wednesday. They’ve been asking people, who’ve signed the petition and given their views, to pass it on to their friends and family, who may be interested.

This is their message.


Have a look at this:

Before Christmas, the government was quietly planning to water down our Freedom of Information laws: our right to know what our politicians are up to, and how they’re spending our public money.

Fast-forward a few months and they seem to be backing off because of a big public backlash. Together we built a massive petition and tens of thousands of us have written in to the government consultation. One minister’s quoted in the press saying; “Nobody in the Government wants to touch this now, it’s a very hot political potato.”

None of this is a done deal – yet. But we’re having impact.

We have a chance to win this on Wednesday. One of the 38 Degrees team, Blanche Shackleton, has been invited to give evidence about protecting FOI laws to the people who are advising the government on this. They’re in the final throes of putting together their recommendations. So this is our opportunity to really hammer home where we stand.

Blanche wants to make sure she’s representing as many people as possible on Wednesday. So please can you take 3 minutes to let her know your thoughts on our right to freedom of information, via a short survey? Click here to go to the short survey:


I’ve signed, and given my views on this extremely important issue, particularly because of the experience of Mike at Vox Political and the rest of the disability activists and bloggers. They’ve been trying to get the DWP to release the figures for the numbers of people, who have died after being found fit for work by Atos and Maximus. The government has done everything they can to put obstacles in the path and prevent the release of this information.

Campaigners on other, related issues have also suffered the same treatment. Johnny Void, who blogs and campaigns on behalf of the homeless and against workfare, has stated that the government flatly refuses to give the names of the companies participating in it, because otherwise they might suffer resistance and so the scheme would fail.

Private Eye has had their request for information on the extent of British land and estates that are owned by offshore trusts turned down by the Information Commissioner as ‘vexatious’.

The Independent has also had their request for official information on expenses turned down, also because it is deemed ‘vexatious’, by those in authority.

And the Cabinet Secretary made a statement a few months ago in which he said that he wanted even further restrictions placed on the Freedom of Information Act. He has, however, since then said that he’s entirely satisfied with the way it work. Probably because nothing was being released that the government didn’t want released.

This is a government that has made no secret of its intention to stop the public getting hold of information that may hold them to account. They have stated that the purpose of releasing information to the public is not so that the public can challenge official decisions, but so they can understand how they’re made. As numerous manuals on drugs manufacture have printed on their covers, ‘This is for information purposes only.’

Well, drugs can be dangerous, and even legal highs have killed people. But not nearly as many as this secretive, officious and authoritarian government. If you have strong feelings about this issue, as I have, and wish to do something to help people like Mike, Mr Void and countless others hold the government to account, then please feel free to take the survey.

Vox Political Welcomes The Independent to Club Vexatious

December 29, 2015

The number of people and organisations, who have had their requests for information turned down as ‘vexatious’ continues to grow. The Independent has now suffered the same treatment by the authorities after they issued a request to see Theresa May’s official web browsing history for the week beginning Monday, 26th October. The government turned it down on the above grounds, and declared that it would take too much effort to find the information to make it worthwhile.

This is, frankly, balderdash. Mike here gives the Independent’s own description of the request and the government’s reply, and his own advice to the Independent. He cites the law to show that their refusal to accede to the request is illegal, and advises the Indie to issue a formal complaint.

It is, of course, no surprise that the government should turn down the Indie’s request as ‘vexatious’. This is what they’ve done to Mike and the other disabled people and their campaigners, who have been pressing for the official figures of the number of people, that have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos and Maximus. Johnny Void has also described how requests for information on the companies participating the government’s odious workfare schemes have also been refused. In all of this, the government’s real reason for turning down the requests hasn’t been because they’re ‘vexatious’, or too difficult to manage, but because they’ll show how inefficient and vindictive their policies are, or open them to criticism.

Mr Void reported years ago that the authorities openly admitted that they didn’t want to release the information on firms taking people on workfare, as that would leave them open to criticism and the scheme would fail. One of the chief civil servants for the cabinet office a few weeks ago actually stated that the Freedom of Information Act was bad, because it had a ‘chilling effect’ on government.

And the government itself has said that the information released under the Freedom of Information Act should not be used by newspapers to ‘generate issues’, or to criticise the government, but to find out how government decisions are made.

The message here is that of the authoritarian state: Tug your forelock, and don’t question your elders and betters. We’re back to the Mussolini’s slogan of ‘Believe. Obey. Fight.’

As to what Theresa May was looking at, if this was anyone else working in an office I’d probably say that they’d been caught doing the usual: looking at porn and cute pictures of cats. And, indeed, the government a year or so ago did try convincing us that MPs were all looking at pornography on their computers. Private Eye later alleged that the story was a classic piece of misdirection. The story was either fake or a distortion, intended to hide the fact that the Commons’ computer system was massively over budget and didn’t work.

This is a massively authoritarian government, which does not seem to believe in the rule of law when it comes to its own interests. And as repeated government demands for more information on its citizens, more surveillance and further encroachments on our civil liberties, all in the name of protecting us from terrorism, of course, I doubt that May was looking at anything as harmless as cute cats, or just sordid pornography. The suspicion here must be that she was illegally going through the private internet chatter, spying on citizens or groups. But of course, we can’t know that, because such requests to see how intrusive our political masters are into the lives of their subjects, is vexatious.

Islamist terrorism isn’t the only threat here. There’s also a very real threat from May, Cameron and the rest of this wretched government, who want to take away our right to privacy and create an authoritarian surveillance state. And the reasons for this aren’t just about protecting us from terrorism, but protecting themselves from the people they exploit, degrade and marginalise.

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

December 23, 2015

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.