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Tuesday 13 October 2009

Bring Me Sunlight

It’s all about transparency – to use the Internet to foster openness in Government. This is the message from the Sunlight Foundation, a non partisan body working out of Washington DC. Sunlight is hot on lobby influence, as you can see from their projects list, and right now they’re focusing on the healthcare lobby and its influence on the US Congress.

But we in the UK need not feel left out, as there is now an organisation here called the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics, which says it is “ ... inspired by and based on the ... Sunlight Foundation”. Sounds promising. So you might think that it, too, would be hot on the trail of the lobbyists.

Ah well. Look down the list of links, and there is the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (Yes, them. Again), a lobby group which, rather than practising the transparency it demands of others, is showing a reluctance to publish its accounts. Not a good sign.

So who is behind the Sunlight Centre? Two of its faces will be familiar to many: Chris Galley, who achieved a brief notoriety as the whistleblower behind Damian Green MP and his immigration campaign, and was then sacked from the Civil Service for his trouble, and Paul Staines, best known as the author of the Guido Fawkes blog.

The latter name may be the more influential: one of the current campaigns of the Sunlight Centre is the pursuit of Baroness Scotland, who is still in post although she was given a civil fine of 5,000 notes after failing to check that her housekeeper was legally in the UK. That same pursuit has featured in the Guido Fawkes blog extensively in recent weeks.

Exactly how this will enhance the transparency of politics, rather than bolster Staines’ attempt to score another political scalp, is not clear. Nor is there, as yet, any sign of who is backing the Sunlight Centre, although I’m sure its founder will rectify the omission in due course.

After all, it’s all about transparency.

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