Chris Moncrieff: Politicians scheme to hide dirty laundry

Newspapers have declared war on the Government over what are beginning to look like subversive plans to put the shutters up by curbing, or even abolishing, the Freedom of Information Act.

Chris Grayling, the abrasive Leader of the House of Commons, says it is wrong for journalists to use this legislation to create news stories.

What arrant and arrogant tosh.

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The newspapers in particular, and the media in general, have done more than any Opposition party in the Commons to unearth scandals, wrong-doing, greed and even corruption among our so-called ruling classes. And that, in part at any rate, has been helped along by the Freedom of Information Act – although not entirely.

Whitehall mandarins claim the existence of the Act actually inhibits Ministers from going about their legitimate business.

That, too, is absolute nonsense.

What have they to hide? And if Members of Parliament, ministers or not, are up to some skulduggery – as has been clearly evidenced in the past – then we, who actually pay their wages (they are our servants, after all) have a total right as employers to know what they are up to.

In fact, the Act has helped to unearth so much political scandal that politicians are running scared they will be caught out again.

Basically, the only information which should not see the light of day is material connected with the security of the state.

MPs have been calling for years for “transparency” in political affairs, but when they get it, they don’t like it. They are behaving like cowards.

So, unless the ideas of Grayling and his henchmen can be crushed, the electors of this country – the paymasters of Westminster and Whitehall – will once more be cast into the darkness.

And that would be scandalous.

The row between the House of Lords and the Commons over tax relief may be simmering, but it would be foolish to think that what had all the makings of a constitutional crisis has been averted.

Both the Prime Minister and Chancellor George Osborne are still fuming that the peers had the temerity to breach a long-standing convention that the Lords cannot contradict the Commons on financial issues – which is precisely what they did.

Cameron’s original threat to swamp the House of Lords with scores of Tory peers, to ensure the present Government gets its way, seems largely to have been abated, although that threat still exists.

But Cameron and Osborne are adamant that some kind of price will have to be paid by the Upper House for their intransigence.

Perhaps the remedy proposed by the former Conservative Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, might be the most sensible: simply to tighten the rules to ensure the Lords cannot, constitutionally, do this again.

He is presumably arguing that a mere convention can be ignored with impunity – which is what has happened so far.

The Government view is that an elected House of Commons cannot be dictated to on these issues by a Chamber filled with non-elected Members, many of whom, additionally, have been rejected by the electorate. Osborne is determined he will get his policy through on tax credits. Otherwise, he warns, other cuts will have to be made in the Government’s spending plans – which in itself would lead to yet another political storm.

Even though it could be nearly two years before the in-out European Union referendum in Britain, those advocating Britain’s departure from the Union, like Nigel Farage and Lord Lawson, will have to step up their game – and soon, unless they are to be outpaced.

David Cameron, who apparently has no desire to see Britain going it alone, has been warning that Norway – not a member state – has to pay as much to the EU as Britain, yet doesn’t have a voice at the table.

Can it really be as simple as that in an organisation so gargantuan and top-heavy? Nor will Cameron disclose what reforms he is actually seeking.

At the moment, the Westminster Parliament is so heavily dictated to by Brussels that some are wondering whether it is worth voting in MPs at all.

If the Euro-sceptics do not start banging their drum pretty soon, they could find themselves facing a fait accompli on voting day.

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.