Posted on February 2nd, 2012 No comments
Eric and Ernie, Barker and Corbett, Keegan and Toshack are all great double acts. Few would disagree. At one point in history you might even have added Brown and Blair to that list, as everybody spent the money they didn’t earn propelling us to our present economic meltdown. But will anybody ever mention Cameron and Clegg in those same terms – I fear not.
What makes a great double act? I would suggest it is that the individuals, although they may have different qualities and attributes, are widely perceived to be roughly equal in talent and skill. Also they are made individually better because they act as a foil for their partner. So when Toshack heads the ball on for Keegan to crack it in the back of the net; it’s the same as Ernie feeding Eric a gag.
Now let’s look at the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of British politics – Cameron and Clegg. After their initial love-in at the No.10 garden, things haven’t gone great for the No.2 man.
Clegg has been made to look a chump by doing the mother of all U-turns on tuition fees and managed to get snared in an unwinnable PR referendum, which means the Liberals will forever be on the fringes of politics.
I’ve now been supplied with a FoI response from the Cabinet Office, sent only after I got the Information Commissioner involved, which shows just how seriously Clegg is taken inside Government.
Those of you who have read this blog before will know I was trying to find out the communication between No.10 and Wimbledon in relation to the deputy MP helping himself to complimentary tickets for the women’s final this year – an event which two of my family attended AFTER winning a raffle AND then paying £200.
The Cabinet Office said they could find no record of him having attended the event! But I saw him on television hobnobbing in the Royal Box.
When I found a photo of him at the event and sent that to the Commissioner the Cabinet Office did at last find a record of the information.
But let’s look at the excuse. Does it give us an insight into just how highly regarded Clegg must be considered within No.10.
“The search for information in response to your initial request was co-ordinated by two members of staff (one inside No.10 and one for the rest of the Cabinet Office). Each thought that the other had contacted the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, when in fact neither had. I am very sorry for this oversight. I have now taken steps to make the search process more robust in future cases.”
Ignored by not just one official but two!
If you want to see the whole of the letter it is here No10, and the actual e-mail exchange in which Clegg first tries to go on a day when there is no tennis and then seems more concerned about who else will be in the Royal Box is here Emails.
Posted on January 10th, 2012 No comments
This year my wife and son managed to secure tickets for Wimbledon. We acquired them through the draw that was held at our local Sussex tennis club, and as luck would have it they were for the Women’s Final.
On the day of the match I was left at home watching the contest on television while those two travelled up to SW19 to enjoy the contest.
I should say here that although we “won” the tickets what we actually won was the right to buy them for roughly £100 each – no half price reduction for kids at the All England Club.
So when I watched the match and saw the cameras cut to the Royal Box to see the nation’s esteemed deputy leader hob-knobbing in the front row with his wife I saw a chance to recoup some of my outlay.
What about FoIing the Cabinet Office to see the communications chain between Mr Clegg and Wimbledon? So I sent off a FoI request to those lovely people at the Cabinet Office.
My first reply was that they held no information and that everything is published in the hospitality register. I appealed the decision and was told effectively, that was it, go away.
I appealed to the Information Commissioner saying I wasn’t that interested in the actual hospitality – as I know what it was because I saw him – what I really want is the communication chain behind the invite.
A little later a letter arrives from the Cabinet Office saying they have now managed to find some communication. I attach it here. Cabinet Office letter
But to my surprise this relates to the Prime Minister and his wife saying thanks for the invite but they won’t be able to make it.
So I’ve told the Information Commissioner I’m not dropping the appeal on the basis of what I’ve been sent so far and I’ve sent off the picture below, just to prove I wasn’t dreaming it.
Some of you might think I’m making a fuss over this, and you are entitled to your view. However, if Mr and Mrs Clegg are going to accept tickets for Wimbledon that the hoi polloi have to pay hundreds of pounds for they can expect a bit of scrutiny.
And what do the Cabinet Office take us for? Idiots? Are we supposed to believe that Clegg and his wife didn’t have anything to do that Saturday and thought they would just turn up and see if they could talk their way in? I’ll keep you posted on developments.
Posted on December 11th, 2009 No comments
Somebody once said (and apologies to whoever dreamed up the analogy) that the use of the Government’s Freedom of Information veto was a little like losing one’s virginity.
They reasoned that the first time was a big deal preceded by a “will they, won’t they” debate.
But after they take the plunge every subsequent application of the veto is increasingly less significant than the first – under you end up spraying your vetos around like confetti.
Jack Straw has gone from virgin to slapper in the space of a year.
We watched him apparently agonise over the Iraq cabinet minutes for months as the case dragged through the Commissioner and then the Tribunal.
Eventually he issued his veto with a commentary that indicated this was an important decision, and a power that would only be used in special circumstances, blah, blah, blah.
Now what happens! He slaps out his veto before the case even gets to the Tribunal – to follow my slutty analogy, it’s the equivalent of not even waiting to get a room.
And what is the subject matter in question upon which the whole fabric of Government depends – some obscure minutes about the subject of devolution (which has now happened if you hadn’t noticed) that are 12 years old already.
No wonder the Information Commissioner Office was moved to issue a statement saying the Christopher Graham was: “concerned that the government may routinely use the veto whenever he orders the disclosure of the minutes of Cabinet proceedings, irrespective of the subject matter or age of the information.”
What would a visitor from outer space make of the Government’s application of its own Freedom of Information Act? On the day the Act helped to reveal a back bench MP spent £2 on a hamburger maker, that same legislation was used to deny us access to the decision making process behind one of the most momentous constitutional changes the country has seen.
They say you get the Government you deserve?
For those who would like a more erudite treaty on the Government’s veto I suggest you visit Martin Rosenbaum’s excellent blog [link] on the topic.
Those of you who fancy a bit of 80s nostalgia click below for Madonna’s take on events – I should warn people it ends with her writhing curiously around on the floor.
Posted on June 2nd, 2009 No comments
The Freedom of Information Act has a provision in it to allow public authorities to ‘Neither Confirm Or Deny” (NCOD) it holds the information the applicant asks for.
This is because in some cases merely stating that an authority holds information relevant to a request will disclose too much information even if the data itself can be withheld using one or more of the exemptions.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) give guidance on the subject (link) in which it provides two examples. Firstly an applicant wanting to know if particular surveillance information was held and, secondly a request to know if troops on active service are equipped with a specific type of weapon.
Some recent examples of the so-called NCOD have been ruled on by the Information Commissioner and they may help FoI officers establish when this can be used.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [Ref: 50188323] – In this case the applicant asked for any information the FO held on the identification of a voice that is heard – presumed to be the killer – in the video in which British hostage Kenneth Bigley is beheaded. The FCO argued that if it did confirm or deny (whichever was appropriate), it would effectively confirm that the Government has (or has not) managed to identify those responsible for Mr Bigley’s death, thereby confirming to those responsible that they may, or may not, be under suspicion. The ICO upheld the FCO’s decision to NCOD the information under S.23 (Security Forces) and S.24 (National Security) of the Act.
Cabinet Office [Ref: 50137790]
- The applicant asked for information held that related to a raid on a property in Forest Gate, East London, where two suspected terror suspects were arrested – one was shot but survived – and were later cleared of any involvement with terrorism. The Cabinet Office gave the applicant some information, directed him to a number of websites that also held some information but then refused to confirm or deny if it held any more claiming S.23 (Security Forces) and S.24 (National Security). The applicant said it was ‘absurd and an abuse of the Act’ for the Cabinet Office to refuse to confirm or deny that it held the information when it was obvious that it did, since the raid had been in the public eye and the Prime Minister would not have been able to respond to questions about it had the Cabinet Office held no information. The Commissioner agreed with the applicant and said because it was clear the Cabinet Office held information relating to the matter it should have said as much and then if it didn’t feel able to disclose it should have then applied exemptions to it. The ICO also said that it was not good practice to disclose some information and then NCOD if any other information exists. The Cabinet Office has now been ordered to state if it does hold any more information, and if it does to either disclose it or apply any exemptions it feels are relevant.
Sussex Police [Ref: 50205686]
- This was an application made on behalf of AsboData, a commercial company that aims to sell information packs to prospective homeowners. Some of the information it intends to sell is gleaned from public authorities using Freedom of Information Act inquiries. In this case it had asked the police for reports of anti-social behaviour in a particular street in the village of Plumpton Green. The police force refused to confirm or deny if it held such information saying that as there were just 15 homes in the street, the area was too small, and to confirm or deny it had such information would be a breach of S.40 (Personal Information). The ICO did not agree and seemed to suggest that 15 homes was not a group small enough to lead to personal data being disclosed. The ICO ordered the police to confirm if such information was held and if so to either disclose it or place the relevant exemptions on it. The decision has now been appealed by Sussex Police to the Information Tribunal.