Healthy na­tion needs light, PM

Info clamp harms democ­racy

The People - - NEWS FEATURESS & -

I’LL let you into a se­cret. Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment is the most se­cre­tive ever and I’ve un­cov­ered a se­cret to il­lus­trate this.

The story be­gins in Novem­ber, 2008 when our grand go-get­ter of post- Brexit busi­ness, t he In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox, was shadow de­fence sec­re­tary.

He asked the Labour gov­ern­ment a writ­ten ques­tion about skills short­ages in the armed forces.

Foxy was given a full list of them. Things like the Navy not hav­ing enough divers, the Army be­ing short of a few mu­si­cians and the RAF a lit­tle light on chap­lains.

Win­dow

Ke­van Jones was a Labour de­fence min­is­ter at the time and had no prob­lem with such in­for­ma­tion en­ter­ing the pub­lic do­main.

Fast for­ward eight years to to­day when Ke­van asks the MoD the same ques­tion us­ing Fox’s ex­act words.

Tory de­fence min­is­ter Mark Lan­caster replied: “This in­for­ma­tion is be­ing with­held for the pur­pose of safe­guard­ing na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Baf­fling. As if Vladimir Putin is sit­ting in the Krem­lin say­ing: “Aha. We have found a chink in im­pe­ri­al­ist de­fences. Not enough chap­lains and pic­colo play­ers. Send in the Tupolev bombers.”

This feels like se­crecy for the sake of it – and na­tional se­cu­rity is al­ways the catch-all to hide be­hind.

It all be­gan with David Cameron. Af­ter he be­came PM he promised his gov­ern­ment would be fully open and trans­par­ent.

When politi­cians talk trans­parency, you know they’re re­ally think­ing cover-up. Put them in a press con­fer­ence or on TV and they weigh ev­ery word so care­fully that we learn lit­tle.

Let them talk to peo­ple like me freely and with­out at­tri­bu­tion so I can tell you what they’re re­ally think­ing – and we all get a much bet­ter han­dle on what our gov­ern­ment is up to.

It’s t he win­dow on democ­racy. Pol­icy can be floated and, if shown to be un­work­able, qui­etly dropped with­out po­lit­i­cally dam­ag­ing U-turns be­cause it was never of­fi­cially an­nounced.

But Mrs May is even less keen on this than Cameron.

She also keeps an iron grip on what White­hall de­part­ments can, but mostly can’t, re­veal.

That’s not open gov­ern­ment. That’s gov­ern­ment by No10 dik­tat.

But shush, don’t tell any­one. It’s meant to be a se­cret.

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