Up to a point, Kerry

MP for Bristol East and fellow Twitterbug Kerry McCarthy has blogged about how often, when the government comes in for criticism, it is from organisations, or via mechanisms, which this Labour government set up.

Of course, she is right about the government’s attempts to increase transparency and fight sleaze. Were it not for this Labour government there would be no Electoral Commission, no Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act, no Freedom of Information Act, no Information Commissioner or Information Tribunal. Ten years ago, Jack Straw wouldn’t have had to hide behind excuses about cabinet government to avoid publishing the war cabinet minutes – he could simply have said no.

But – practically – what difference does that make, specifically in Jack Straw’s case? What was the point in creating an Information Commissioner if the government can ignore the ICO’s orders?

In his response to the government’s decision, the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas expressed concern about the use of the goverment’s veto, saying “Anything other than exceptional use of the veto would threaten to undermine much of the progress made towards greater openness and transparency in government since the FOI Act came into force.”

I can’t think of a good reason for the government to have a veto, but I expect that the justification given when the FOI Act was drawn up involved something about national security, identity of secret service personnel, that sort of thing: not to protect the right of cabinet ministers to say what they think in meetings without worrying someone might find out what they said. Isn’t that what open government means?

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