Freedom of Information for all, for now

Published

newsroom

Tess Milligan
Writer

The Freedom of Information Act was introduced in 2000 by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, a move he now calls himself an “idiot” for making. This, published in his recent memoirs, was followed by his criticism that the Freedom of Information act was used, not by the general public, but by journalists.  In light of this criticism and of the criticism this act has received from other MPs, it would be pertinent to discuss what this act has brought to the public through the work of journalists.

One of the first and more shocking revelations was gulped the expenses scandal. First coming to light in 2009, the Telegraph published an expose of MPs expenses Whitstable watched the abuse of public trust by some MPs. The conclusions were as varied as they were shocking, from details pertaining to fraud, fraudulent receipts, and absurd claims which ranged from sweets to opulent ornamental duck houses and moat cleansing. This emerged at a time when the public was still reeling from a freshly collapsing economy. Such mindless frivolity in the face of the oncoming recession appeared to be one of the main reasons Labour lost the election thereafter, despite key Conservatives also being linked other scandal.

This was a great move for getting the political higher up’s attention. Indeed, it perhaps worked too well, as top political figures bemoaned Gordon Brown spent two days going over his own papers- as opposed to fixing the situation at hand. After the losses of MPs, including Julie Kirkbride and her husband Andrew Kirkbride, who stood down amid the scandal, the entire system was changed along with the political landscape. An independent body, Ipsa, was established to police MPs’ expenses and new rules were introduced. This brought about other changes. For instance, under the old system, MPs could claim for mortgage interest on their second homes, a practice scrapped after the crisis. Some complain privately that the new system which replaced the discredited old set-up is bureaucratic and inefficient. However, it cannot be denied that the public is better prepared for the ongoing debate of how MPs should be compensated when travelling to London.

Another scandal, this one undiscovered until after the election, was one of the bailouts given to struggling institution. The Government agreed to a £1.5 million bailout of one of the most troubled schools in its flagship academies programme ten days before the 2005 general election. Part of the outrage surrounding the scandal was the fact that it was part of the government’s flagship academies programme- a programme which was designed to break local authority control over schools. As it turns out, local authorities should perhaps have a say in what goes on in local schools. Many children, at the end of it all, had to resit exams and the experiment was marked down as a complete failure. What did this scandal tell the public? In my personal opinion, to see an eye out for the long-term plans and ideas that will possibly permanently affect your life and the life of your exam-age children.

There were, finally, darker aspects to these revelations. Foreign diplomats – who have diplomatic immunity – were accused of rapes, sexual assaults, child abuse and murders while working in Britain. An estimated seventy-four police officers serving with the Metropolitan Police have criminal records. The UK supported the Israeli nuclear weapons program, by selling Israel 20 tonnes of heavy water in 1958. There was a whole world of corruption and cover-ups open to the public- perhaps too much to really take in. Diplomatic immunity is still abused and the police still allow for the policemen and women they employ to have a criminal record and the public is now abundantly aware of the UK’s awful foreign policy. Even now, the UK has not fully left the Middle East militarily.

However, public knowledge of the government’s various colossal failures has created a certain cautious attitude amongst the police elite. Cameron’s reluctance to get into Syria was proof enough of that. Again, there was criticism of this, too, but caution, in the opinion of many of the public, is far preferable to following the President of the United States into a war, only for it to lead to public horror at the realisation that the government made the wrong call.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how willing the public are to know what happens with the at times closed-off feeling government. The reason as to why the public are not making more requests could be anything. It could be a kind of uncertainty as to how to go about it, what they can search for, or even what to search for. Unless you are personally affected by the issue, how are you supposed to know that you need to request the information and bring it to the public’s attention? A journalist’s job is to bring these issues to light and to sear for them endlessly. In fact, are journalists themselves members of the public- people who, for all these potations know, have children going to the mismanaged academy? It was their taxes going towards their expenses. They have every right to be searching for the truth. Regardless, in the oncoming weeks and months, it will be interesting to see who amongst our current array of politicians- from every party- tells the public that more information is a bad thing.