Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Transparency In Government?


By Martin Sixsmith, ex-Whitehall Spin Doctor.

"I smile when I hear this Government insisting that it is committed to openness about its own behaviour (MPs’ expenses, Iraq inquiry passim).

This is partly because I was a member of the senior Civil Service when the Freedom of Information Act was formulated in 1999 and I remember all the whispered discussions about how to circumvent it (never write anything down, don’t keep minutes of sensitive meetings), and partly because I have just emerged from a gruelling battle to make use of Britain’s information laws and have found the odds stacked firmly against me.

My Whitehall stint ended seven years ago after Downing Street tried to blame me for the misbehaviour of Stephen Byers, the Transport and Local Government Secretary at the time, and his spin doctor, Jo Moore.

The Government eventually made a public apology to me and paid substantial compensation, but I was curious to find out who had picked me as a scapegoat, and who had led the smear campaign against me when I refused to go quietly.

So in April 2006 I filed a subject access request for all the information the Government held on me and expected to get it within the 40-day deadline specified by the Freedom of Information Act. Some hope. The Government didn’t even reply within 40 days let alone provide the data.

When I asked why it was not sending me the information, I triggered a mildly surreal sequence of excuses that went on for two years: we have faulty IT equipment; manpower shortages; new priorities; “I am on holiday in France, R. Smith, Data Controller”; pressure of other business; change in IT supplier; the need to consult widely; Christmas leave commitments; third-party interests; concerns over data security . . .

I was patient and polite, but I was being fobbed off. I complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which enforces the information laws, and it replied that the Government “is likely to have contravened the Act”. Months went by and I heard nothing more.

When I rang, the ICO said that it had mislaid the case file. I asked for a meeting. At ICO headquarters in Wilmslow, Cheshire, I found an understaffed, cowed and demoralised organisation with nothing like the clout and resources the job demands. Staff members told me that they were stressed, overworked and scared of challenging the Government (which pays their wages).

Around this time, a friend in the Civil Service informed me that ministers were holding discussions about destroying the information I had asked for, potentially a criminal offence. When I asked about this, the Government’s departmental knowledge officer, Richard Smith, wrote: “No information is held relating to discussions or correspondence regarding the provision or non-provision of the information you requested.”

But I later discovered that he wrote on the same day to another official: “We have needed to consult widely on this request because of the nature of the data we hold . . . Please regard this as confidential and not for passing on to Martin Sixsmith.”

I urged the ICO to demand that the Government hand over the data. The ICO threatened enforcement action, but the Government did not reply. So the ICO set another deadline, which the Government also ignored. When the Government failed to meet a third deadline, the ICO moved it back again.

It was clear that the Government was accustomed to bullying and ignoring a toothless ICO, and that the ICO had no stomach to take it on. It was not until September 2008, after some vigorous lobbying from me, that the ICO finally agreed to issue an enforcement notice. Surprise, surprise, the Government still refused to comply and the case was sent on appeal to the Information Tribunal, the FoI equivalent of the High Court.

I thought that I was getting somewhere now, but if the ICO was bad, the tribunal officials were worse: communications from its proper officers were shambolic, contradictory and semi-literate.

When the case opened at Crown Chambers in the Temple, the Government was calling the shots. I requested that proceedings be held in public, as permitted by the act, but the Government’s QCs harangued the chairman into closing the doors, and the public (including me) were locked out.

I asked how much taxpayers’ money had been spent contesting the case — the Government was represented by two QCs, the ICO by one, and the panel of judges included a further two QCs — but I was told that it was not in the public interest for me to know this. One of the lawyers told me later that the figure was in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The information I was seeking had no bearing on national security but, because it was politically embarrassing, the Government was prepared to spend three years and substantial public funds to keep it secret. If I weren’t so bloody-minded, the ICO would have caved in and the Government would have got away with it.

But last month, three years after it all began, a heap of documents landed on my doormat. They are heavily redacted, but they show that senior civil servants backed up the view that Stephen Byers misled Parliament and that it was Alastair Campbell who circulated false information about me.

Campbell’s language is delightfully choice: it might turn up in the rantings of Malcolm Tucker in the next series of The Thick of It.

I am still trawling through the contents of the documents — they will provide a story for another day — but for now the lesson is clear: there is no truth in the rumour that the Government has embraced openness and honesty."

From The Times

The Penguin


10 comments:

pircu said...

Have we ever had a more mendacious, officious and outright deceitful Government? I cannot think of a time though I am not an aged chap. Everything the Government says is not the truth. There may be elements of the truth or it may be an outright lie, but it is not the truth. These honourable men and women and their scheming civil servants are draining us of our freedoms, our conscience, our confidence and our money.

Sixsmith's treatment is just another example of how the law is for little people not the Government.

It is Bastille Day in France. Why do we fight ourselves when we should be fighting the State?

Oldrightie said...

I detest, loathe, despise and utterly despair at my inability to describe the anger and hatred that I have for the way this despicable load of excrement behave. The Civil Service must pray for the day they go and they can tell us all in greater detail how deserved the hoons and bully boys are of our approbation. Mind you they will have to sabotage Labours' shredding factories to retain any evidence.

Man in the Street said...

The Civil Service are as much to blame as the fucking politicians. It happened under their watch, they chose to keep quiet, their job and pension. How principled.

Fuck civil servants and their leaching of the public purse.

JS said...

Are we in East Germany?

George. said...

@oldrightie, you have just described how I feel, I spend half of my day fucking angry and it is affecting every thing that I do, I am not articulate enough to write a blog but would gladly fucking kick the heads in of a few of these cunts. My wife is getting pretty tired of my dark moods.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean George, the lies, deceit & crazed mass control attitude of Brown & his cunts are enough to turn the daily milk sour. Somedays I really feel I could explode. I keep repeating the mantra 'don't give up, get even'.

banned said...

The 40+ cpmments in the Times say it all really but
List of Government excuses for failing to obey the law
"...faulty IT equipment; manpower shortages; new priorities; “I am on holiday in France, R. Smith, Data Controller”; pressure of other business; change in IT supplier; the need to consult widely; Christmas leave commitments; third-party interests; concerns over data security . . . "
I'll try those next time I fail to appear in court.

Anonymous said...

The civil service is infected by communist purpose(EU, NWO vetting system) and it now makes sure that only those with the NWO or destruction of Britain mentality get through to the top jobs, these jobs are now as politically motivated as the polititians.

even the gay lib dem ex police big wig admitted that the goverment spunked money on sending him to the EU politivcal communist purpose vetting system.

you are living in a fascist state and the Tories are a part of it.

many of the Tories are ignorant, but the big wigs know the game and will play the NWO tune as soon as they come to office, if there is an office to come to once the Ireland referendum has been rigged more effectively this time, in the name of `democracy`.

The only people left in the civil service are ignorant stooges who are deemed to be subversive enough to hold their position and those actively involved in the subversion - making every aspect of the civil service another arm of the goverment politcal machine, which in tern is just an arm of the EU which in tern is just a part of the trilateral directly controlled by the NWO bankers.

They own almost everything of note and influence and put the money they make into controlling everything of note and interest to aid them owning ever more.

Brown signed your children over to them with a massive debt that they pre-planned for us.

If we had a free press the whole thing would collapse which is why they control the `free` press and news services.

you only get to hear what they want you to hear and the Internet when combined with people of integrity digs deeper than the `free` press ever will.

Cameron will do all the NWO damage to this coutry within the first year of comming to office, they know it is the open window they have before people start asking questions such as, why is the new boss the same as the old boss?

For all those who fear the BNP fear not, the NWO would bump off the main leaders or shut down the party long before they even got close to power.

later the pro democracy and civil liberty politicins will also be bumped off, so think before you cheer them on in their silencing of a democratic party and it's leaders.

Same would happen to UKIP or the Libertarians unless they can be manipulated from within.

The only hope was the internet gaining credibility, but already the NWO will be setting up their honey trap subversive blogs in order to sow discontent and confusion but never point the finger at the controllers unless it can be done in a way that discredits the people conveying the message.

They will tell you half truths about what is going on but then deliberately discredit it talking about aliens and tin foil hats to destroy the real credibility and facts contianed within the general message.

They have got away with this for some time with the ignorant spouting `tin foil hat brigade is here`, even though they do not understand the factual and provable web of power subversion and death the people behind the NWO weave.

do some research on the federal reserve, let me know what you find.

Anonymous said...

This is an article worth lathering yourself into a froth of indignation over worthy of the police state comments. Shamefully how this guy has been treated.

Re. the poster above, I don't really 'get' a lot of the NWO thing but I did watch a film out of curiousity a while back called 'Fascism to Freedom' about the American Federal Reserve, it's well worth watching.

For those who haven't seen it it's made by a mainstream film maker who decided that these people saying that the federal reserve had no legal powers to collect income tax were loons and that he'd prove it. Long and short of it is it seems the loons were right.

Anonymous said...

Poster above, yaes that was an arron russo film i believe and gets more interesting as the film goes past the tax issues and onto more sinister issues.

here is the most revealing video you may ever watch or listen to.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8484911570371055528

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