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Monday 3 March 2014

Conservative Home FOI Hypocrisy

All good British Conservatives know of Conservative Home, even if they do not look in on the site regularly. They also know to expect a suitably rigorous diet of right-leaning content, generally with a high ideological purity content, especially as the Executive Editor (that means he effectively runs it) is one Mark Wallace, formerly a stalwart of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).
This means arguing for less Government, less tax, less benefits system, as little NHS as they can get away with, but all the while with total transparency. Or rather that was the case until one contributor found that transparency was not to his liking: step forward Tory MP Richard Benyon, who, not to put too fine a point on it, is minted beyond the dreams of avarice.

Benyon is clearly aghast at the existence of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, and the uses to which they may be put: “I was given a two page going-over by the Daily Mirror – which claimed that I was ‘raking in £625,000 a year from his hard-up tenants’ housing benefit’.  In other words, it produced some half-fictions wrapped up in a load of 1970s class warfare”. Poor dear.

And, worse for Squire Richard, the lower orders were lurking in the shadows: “Behind this attack was the GMB Union, acting as a fig leaf for the Labour Party. It has gone on a fishing trip around local authorities, using the Freedom of Information Act to harvest data with which to knock the Government in general and Conservatives in particular”. They just don’t know their place nowadays.

Benyon senses malpractice: “This prompted me to ask how many FOI requests my local authority is getting and what the burden this activity is on council resources.  The staggering answer is that a small unitary authority like West Berkshire Council receives around four or five FOI requests a day ... [in] the long run, we need to make sure that the Act is there for what it is designed to do”.

So submitting significant numbers of FOI requests is A Very Bad Thing. One has to wonder how Mark Wallace squares this point of view with his time at the TPA – with whose philosophy he still sympathises – when submitting unfeasibly large numbers of FOI requests was de rigueur. Benyon thinks millions are being consumed by servicing these requests. He is right. But this cuts both ways.

Just because some rotten lefties have discovered the art of extracting information through FOI is no excuse to deny them the same transparency that the TPA uses to its advantage so often – and at such cost to the same taxpayers it pretends to champion. One wonders what Wallace’s excuse will be for Benyon’s petulant outburst, other than that he is also a champion of free speech.

So free, in fact, that it allows ConHome to face both ways at once. No change there.

1 comment:

James said...

And at least the Mirror's use of FOI here sounds justified, in uncovering information of interest and relevance, whereas every FOI-related TPA 'story' I've seen seems to involve them submitting a FOI, sucking their teeth and grumbling "Ooh, looks like a big number, that can't be good". I saw a local story a few months ago, in which the council planned to provide some workers with mobile phones (note the word 'some'). Up popped the TPA, whining that 'the taxpayer shouldn't be paying for all council workers to have free mobiles'. Which they clearly weren't. Still, anything to keep the TPA busy. It must get dull playing Minesweeper all day.

It reminds me of the way the anti-BBC mob take one look at the number of people sent to cover Glastonbury/the Olympics/insert-event-here and then whinge that it's far too many, and it must just be a 'jolly' (because of course they know exactly how many people it takes to cover a festival or sporting event, including TV, radio, red button and website coverage, plus transport, wires, satellite links, catering, legal etc).