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Are Freedom of Information requests really being politically policed by the Cabinet Office?
Last month there was a great deal of media interest in a story written by the far left campaigning organisation Open Democracy. The campaigners allege that there is a blue-pencilling unit in the Cabinet Office for Freedom of Information requests which polices “sensitive” FoIs placed by known or suspected journalists (or far left political activists), by either advising departments on how to respond or instructing them not to give information on the topic.
Anecdotal evidence does suggest FoI requests are being centralised and the people submitting them are being monitored – no one seems to be in a rush to answer this one about the government’s dealings with the PR firm Hanbury, for example – but if the Open Democracy story was true it raises a few questions. Why was the FoI release we used in this recent story not blocked? After a short delay in which the Home Office asked for some extra time, it sailed through with no bother. If anything, it was even more fulsome than might reasonably have been expected. And understandably, the story was of considerable further interest, cropping up in the Daily Mail, the Guardian and The National.
No one’s seriously going to allege that there’s a secretive cabal of “Friends of Dom” FoI vetters lingering in Whitehall and carefully only releasing stuff they think will be personally damaging to Boris, are they? Politics is often more cock-up than conspiracy and even by the standards of hard left conspiracy theorists, this seems a bit far-fetched. Instead we must assume that our FoI response, which did not shine a particularly flattering light on the Prime Minister, his fiancée or their close friend, must have been marked as “good to go” by the Cabinet Office in error. It seems Michael Gove’s unit, if it exists, is at least fallible.
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