Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

OFCOM register of hospitality

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Hmm – it’s 3pm on a Friday and I’ve just had Ofcom’s response to my freedom of informaton act request seeking their registers of gifts and hospitality. Ofcom is the regulator of the broadcast industry and as you’ll see there’s a lot of ‘stakeholder engagement’ in evidence. Friday afternoons are the preferred time for government disclosures of an embarrassing nature so I’m hoping this is no exception.

Please – everyone – dig in. I’m particularly interested to hear what media insiders make of Ofcom’s response and to the lobbying. Please send me comments here or on twitter (newsbrooke).

Talking at Centre for Investigative Journalism

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Here is a talk I gave to the Centre for Investigative Journalism this summer, for those interested in hearing the full tale of how I battled to obtain MPs’ expenses.

Criminal investigation into MPs claims

Friday, June 19th, 2009

A short interview piece for ITN on the criminal investigation into MPs’ expense claims.

Article: A Prime Minister’s conversion to openness

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Freedom of information? It’s a state secret
The Times, June 11, 2009
By Heather Brooke

Promises of more open government have been made before

When it comes to politicians advocating open government the best advice is to ignore what they say and focus on what they do.

Yesterday, Gordon Brown used the dreaded word “transparency”. I have been campaigning for five years on freedom of information and had to go to the High Court to force the disclosure of MPs’ expenses, so it is with some satisfaction that I now hear the Prime Minister issuing statements about the need for open government that I couldn’t have written better myself.

Mr Brown proposed extending the scope of freedom of information. The funny thing is that he suggested this once before, in October 2007. It must have slipped his mind.

Back then, in the first flush of office, he gave a rousing speech on civil liberties. He announced a public consultation about extending coverage of the Freedom of Information Act to institutions that received huge whacks of taxpayers’ cash but had no obligation to be publicly accountable, such as city academies, Network Rail, and private companies providing public services.

The consultation closed in February 2008 and the results were supposed to be implemented no later than November 2008. Need I say that nothing happened? In January I inquired about this phantom consultation. I asked the Ministry of Justice for a copy of the submissions and timelines of progress on implementation. Not getting a straight answer, I filed an FoI request (as I do).

You can guess what happened next. My FoI request about the progress of freedom of information was rejected. The ministry claimed that all the information was exempt as it involved the “formulation of government policy”. So much for Mr Brown’s airy claim that “this is the public’s money. They should know how it is spent.”

Now Mr Brown has put in charge of the FoI reforms one Jack Straw, of the Ministry of Justice, (a department with one of the shoddiest records in answering FoI requests). He is to head a public debate on this secret public consultation. When it comes to making bureaucracies accountable this is the snail’s pace of progress.

How unlike the lightning speed with which new bureaucracies are created. Two were magicked into life just this week: A shiny new department for Peter Mandelson and the ironically-titled Government Democratic Council. I say ironic because in the true spirit of Yes, Minister its creation is shrouded in secrecy. It appears the members will be ministers appointed by the Prime Minister in secret and it’s unclear how transparently they will formulate reforms for a more transparent democracy. Here’s betting it will be behind closed doors.

Channel 4 News: MPs Expenses

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Debating the MPs expenses scandal on Channel 4 News with presenter Jon Snow and MP Stuart Bell.

Dispatches: The Westminster Gravy Train

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

A documentary I presented for Channel 4’s Dispatches, using publicly available information on politicians’ expense claims to piece together a forensic insight into how our money is being spent.

Watch Dispatches: The Westminster Gravy Train at YouTube.

A good day to bury bad expenses

Monday, March 30th, 2009
  • A Home Secretary on the verge of resignation over allegations her husband put through porn on expenses.
  • World leaders descending on London for the G20 with expected riots.

A full news day and what better time to publish the much-delayed aggregate 2007/2008 expense totals of all MPs. These are the same aggregate totals that the House of Commons was supposed to publish back in October 2008 but felt unequal to the task.

A cynic might see this long delay as the defiant response to a High Court ruling ordering full disclosure.

I’ve put in a freedom of information request to get to the bottom of the delay and sudden about-face.

I’m all for full disclosure but must it always be done in such a reactionary, manipulative way? Haven’t the Commons authorities learned by now that best approach is one that is sensible, thought-through and respectful of the public’s right to know?

MPs 2007/2008 aggregate expense totals

Sneaky MPs vote to keep addresses secret

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Just as the debate on the Political Parties and Elections Bill was about to end at 9pm last night, Julian Lewis MP stood up and sneakily inserted a clause to exempt MPs’ home addresses from being included in the electoral registers.

Yet again – one rule for us, another for our ever-more-self-important MPs.

Read more in today’s Daily Telegraph.

The High Court ruled in my case for the publication of MPs expenses that MPs’ home addresses should be published to ensure the second homes allowances were being spent properly and not abused. There were cases of MPs claiming the allowance for homes they were renting out privately, homes they were using for holidays and even homes that did not exist.

The ruling was entirely sensible and allowed MPs with a valid security threat to be exempted from disclosure. What it didn’t allow for was self-important, paranoid, conspiracy-obsessed MPs to keep secrets from their own constituents based on fevered imaginings. What shocking distrust and disrespect our leaders have for us! Meanwhile they demand from us complete transparency.

If you’ve any doubts about the Walter Mitty nature of Julian Lewis and his cronies who voted for this bill, might I point you toward someone who is possibly a wee bit more important but who, nonetheless, has no problems understanding that in a democracy a leader must be directly answerable to the people.

Expenses U-Turn

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just told the House of Commons that plans to amend Freedom of Information laws to exempt MPs expenses will be abandoned. As readers of the blog will know, MPs were due to vote on this shameless bill tomorrow. Now it seems the issue is shelved.

The Times reports that Mr Brown made the announcement in response to a question from Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP, who asked why the Prime Minister had issued a three-line-whip to pass the bill. Then it became clear that the House of Lords (increasingly the saviour of what little democracy is left in Britain) were preparing to vote against the bill.

Victory yet again. Will these shameless MPs’ ever learn? Why don’t they just publish the receipts and be done with it. End of story. Some of the more unscrupulous heads may roll, but once they do we will have a better Parliament and all MPs can begin to rebuild their reputation with their constituents.

Subsidized lobbying

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Whether or not it’s right for government agencies to spend taxpayer money to lobby MPs or provide them with fancy drinks receptions – the fact is that we can’t even have a debate about this until we know it’s happening. Which it is. To the tune of £300,000. And that’s just by the staff of Regional Development Agencies.

This sort of hospitality goes on all across the public sector and we don’t know the half of it. I put it to the bureaucrats: if you’ve nothing to fear than you should have nothing to hide. Why should anyone even have to make a freedom of information request for this information? It should be available for all to see in line-item budgets provided online by all public bodies.