This post concerns the first one, the news on Thursday that the government is planning to introduce charges for FOI requests, perhaps involving a “range of tariffs”. As our blogging friends at Save FOI explain:
Charging for FOI requests would drastically curtail the ability of ordinary people as well as charities, journalists, businesses and others to hold public bodies to account.
Save FOI goes on to say that this seems a particularly strange move for a Government whose Prime Minister has said “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the world.” But of course, as readers of this blog have long known – and an increasing number of people up and down the country are at last starting to realise – it is impossible to trust anything most politicians say, and when it comes to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in particular our default position must be the justifiable assumption that they are lying through their teeth.
But there is a more fundamental point to be made here that even Save FOI appear to have missed, namely that we are required to request information to be made public in the first place.
While there are obvious exceptions where some information has to be kept out of the public domain lest it aids a potential enemy to do harm to this nation, the fact remains this is information that should be released and made public proactively. The information is the public’s. It is produced and exists supposedly to serve the public. We pay for it. Therefore it belongs to us.
That we are forced to go in search of it (and all too frequently encounter significant obstruction in getting it) is a scandal. That we may also now be compelled to pay for that which is ours is an outrage. This reinforces the reality of a them and us society, where on one side we have a self selecting elite operating in its own interest at our expense and on the other side we have the general public, abused and treated with contempt.
If we had genuine people power in this country via system like Referism the inverted master and servant relationship would be corrected. Power is exercised through the control of funds. Under Referism the people would decide regularly where our money is spent. Representatives would be forced to abide by the public will instead of acting as our masters. And one outcome would be the end of the pantomime that sees us forced to crawl and beg for titbits of information from those who pretend they are a class apart.
Sign the petition opposing this move to charge for FOI by all means. But don’t lose sight of the fact that this is our information that should be made public, without delay or hindrance, by default. That is what we should be demanding, not going cap in hand to the likes of Cameron – whose two faced party (if you can believe the irony / hypocrisy / self delusion *del as appropriate) produced the t-shirt on the right – hoping we can cling on to scraps of information, sometimes supplied when it suits the political class, on request and under sufferance.
We should not be addressing the symptom, we should be fighting the problem. That is why it is time for disparate voices to combine and declare our demands. I will be there at the Old Swan in Harrogate with the other people who will be working to frame those demands and pursue them.
With that event in mind, two of my favourite bloggers make essential points that all need to burned into our collective memory. Firstly, Raedwald who reminds us that we don’t request, rather we demand our freedom, because it’s our freedom and not for others to grant us. Secondly, Witterings From Witney who reminds us that that the politicians are always the servants and never the masters of the people, irrespective of the fact they behave otherwise. It is time to make both a reality.