Healthy nation needs light, PM
Info clamp harms democracy
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.
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.