Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The 15 Year Itch?

I am all for opening up government. Indeed I think that the way this current Labour administration has done its best to go against the spirit of its own FOI legislation is a sad indictment of them.

At the weekend there was a report in the Independent on Sunday which indicated that the 30 year rule which has been in place for many years and prevents the publication of sensitive government information for 30 years (when presumably the protagonists will have retired or passed away) may be changed to 15 years. I personally think this is a good move and will lead to more open government.

However I have to question the motivation behind this move. The government must be aware that if this was to be brought in, say next year then all of a sudden we would have 15 years of the Tory administration's most sensitive details running from 1979 - 1994 suddenly released into the public domain in the run-up to a general election. There will doubtless be all sorts of juicy details that political junkies like me would love to be able to get hold of. However would it be fair for all the information to come out like that so close to a general election given that "sensitive" often means "potentially embarassing". Sure, most of the key players are no longer in senior positions in the Conservative party but e.g. Ken Clarke may well be back in the shadow cabinet next year and he was a minister throughout both Thatcher's and Major's time at the helm.

Now I do not want to seem partisan in favour of the Tories, I most certainly am not. However this proposal seems to be unfair were it to be implemented in a blanket way in the near future. It would be better to wait until after the next election, and then perhaps decrease the time gradually, say 3 years every year so after 5 years we have the 15 year limit.

I fear that this very tribal Labour Prime Minister is making precisely the calculations described above and may well conclude that he can appear to be opening up government whilst at the same time getting one over on the opposition by forcing the airing of a large chunk of their dirty linen. I hope I am wrong about this.

Finally, if this does go ahead then it could eventually backfire on the government. Imagine if Brown was to win the next election (I know it seems unlikely) but with things quite volatile as they are at the moment, you never know. If this did happen in an election called next year, he could still be PM in 2012 when the dirty linen of the 1997 Labour administration would be being aired. There may well be some things that come out that would be very embarrassing for Brown, especially if some of the things I have heard alleged about his appalling behaviour towards Tony Blair when he was Chancellor turn out to be true.

I wonder if Brown has thought this through properly. He would do well to stem the urge to scratch that itch for now.

No comments: