In his memoirs, Tony Blair laments his government’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act:
Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.
While Open Democracy campaigners have reproached Blair’s about-face as a sign he was corrupted by power, there may be some merit to his argument.
The civil service and much of the country was concerned with Blair’s “sofa government” – decisions being made without involving the Cabinet, after consulting with a largely unelected (and to most of the country unknown) inner circle.
It is not far-fetched to suggest that when the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005, it provided an incentive to continue with such an approach: discussions are informal, undocumented and unknowable by journos, bloggers and busybodies.
Whatever – it’s not my job to discuss the merits of the Act. On balance, I think it’s probably a good thing, but clearly it can encourage behaviour we might not want our decision-makers to be engaged in.
We can see this in Transport for London. Wading through the minutes of TfL’s Network Management Group from April 2011 (which I received through a Freedom of Information request) I came across this little tidbit:
Any Other Business
Noted that an FOI requesting copies of all correspondence between DR and Greenwich had included NMG minutes. Agreed that going forward minutes to be brief action points. Action – SC
It seems Tony’s cronies aren’t the only ones trying to evade the prying eyes of the public.