David Cameron nobly declared in 2010 that; “It is our ambition to be one of the most transparent governments in the world” and “Greater transparency across government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account; to reduce the deficit and deliver better value for money in public spending; and to realise significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites using public data” and – “…we will extend transparency to every area of public life.”
The Cabinet Office still has these pledges posted on its website today. It was clear in 2010 that Cameron’s Government was going dismantle state secrecy in favour of accountability.
Cameron cleverly used transparency and visibility because public confidence in politicians and politics more widely had been so severely dented that just 15 percent of the population trusted anything they said or said they would do. This was an all-time low ever recorded and came on the back of the expenses scandal in 2009 that ended with the infamous “Rotten Parliament” label being firmly etched into the history books of British politics.
Cameron vowed to open up the books of central and local government spending, along with other commitments including a Public Transparency Board headed by leading experts. He also specifically included the strengthening of the Freedom Of Information Act, publishing government department datasets on the basis of public demand, with the Ministry of Justice to support the public’s Right to Data.
In reality, Ministers talked in dark corners of how journalists prized open the expenses scandal in 2009 that embarrassed them so. Freedom of information enlightened the public on just how much secret data the government and their agencies were holding on British citizens, what police knew about child sexual exploitation, details of tax avoiding party political donors and Russian oligarchs that the Conservative party is so beholden for their survival.
Setting new standards is something the Conservatives are doing, just not as we were led to believe. As an example, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is to be diluted by making it harder to get information, described by journalist as “an attack on democracy“. Once redrawn, the FoI Act will be more a charter for cover-ups of ministerial and departmental malfeasance.