My Freedom of Information Act request: What’s the point of Chris Grayling?

I’m going to submit an FoI request to the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons.

Just what is the point of Chris Grayling? What purpose does he possibly serve?

If you could get back to me in the next 28 days, I’d be ever so grateful.

In a Parliament where hypocrisy, contempt for the voting public and a willingness to rewrite history seem to be vital prerequisites, the Lord President of the Council and MP for Epsom and Ewell excels.

Not content with trashing legal aid, putting his foot in his mouth over B&Bs and gay people and banning the sending of books to prisoners in the last Parliament, Grayling is now seeking to repeal the Freedom of Information Act.

He has said that it is “not acceptable” for journalists to use the FoI Act to “generate stories.”

Grayling’s comments have been condemned by Labour, the Society of Editors, and the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

It’s difficult to know where to start here.

So let’s begin with Grayling’s own use of the Act.

Full marks to The Sun for pointing out that, in opposition, Grayling and his office were no strangers to the send button on the FoI page of many a government department.

It’s tricky to justify every Sun headline, but “staggering hypocrisy” does seem to cover it.

So what about the allegedly soaring cost of the Act?

As UK Press Gazette, which is campaigning against the plans, has found, the Government spends 50 times more on external communications than it does on complying with FoI requests.

And finally, what about the rising abuse of the Act?

As the New Statesman reports, the number of requests has levelled off. And most of them aren’t from journalists.

It’s always been clear to me that the very best organisations – in whatever sector – positively welcome scrutiny of their operations, with the disinfectant of publicity and the holding to account which that brings.

And there’s no doubt that the Act has shone a very useful spotlight in some very dark corners.

The record of the last few years shows there’s plenty of questionable business being done in our names by public bodies.

Here’s more than 100 in just six months, courtesy of the Guardian.

Grayling seems to want use of the FoI Act to be restricted to white-haired political scientists, neutering it like material subject to the 30-year rule, so that we get interesting insights into the machinery of government without ever being able to challenge its excesses in the here and now.

His attempt to clip the wings of the Act is a squalid, small-minded and cynical manoeuvre.

Grayling’s role has just seen him plunged into the awkward business of organising a review of the tax credits shambles.

He ought to concentrate on clearing up that mess, rather than on creating another one of his own.

No competent government which has the best interests of the people at its heart and which wants to keep the flame of democracy burning strong has anything to fear from freedom of information.

Perhaps that’s why Mr Grayling is so worried.


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