Defining ‘the public interest’ is not easy, but the term is generally used by those who think that governments should serve the people. It is also therefore used by those who pretend to believe that.
Labour and the Lib Dems are accusing Rishi Sunak of trying to cover up ministers’ potential misdeeds during the COVID pandemic, refusing to hand over information demanded by the COVID inquiry. He is so strongly of the opinion that it would not be in the public interest to release them that he is considering court action. The government also denies having the material.
At a recent debate triggered by a public petition, the government took the position that it “wouldn’t be appropriate to hold an inquiry into the impact of Brexit”. Perhaps this is because there are over 1,000 downsides and very few upsides (including happier fish and scrapping ‘funny numbers’ on tunnel signs). What are they hiding?
Thanks to a FOIA request, we now know that a report which Thérèse Coffey suppressed as ‘not in the public interest’ shows that the government’s policy of using sanctions on benefit claimants to get them back into work have the opposite effect. I could have told them that, having worked in the DHSS back in the day, but surely it would be good for us to know that the Tories had it wrong? Surely it would be good for THEM to know so that they could change policy for the better? It would certainly be good for the people affected to know so they could protest bad policy.
These are just a few of many policies that the Tories have that have no basis in their own experience, but come out of ideological theories. We need studies to show whether these theories work or not, so that we can do better — perhaps by voting out the people who hold these theories.
Other examples of suppressed reports and information include the Troubled Families programme, a report into illicit Russian activities in Britain, the ONS Covid infection survey (no, the Pandemic is not over), and Rishi Sunak’s conflicts of interest.
Where they can’t suppress the facts, they deny them. For example, Sunak was still promoting his promise to halve inflation when inflation actually rose after he made his promise. It will fall as the huge hike in energy prices falls off the year-on-year statistic, without him doing a thing or energy becoming cheaper, but it still leaves us with prices 5% higher than a year ago, when they were 10% higher than the year before.
Suella Braverman is denying that the Illegal Migration Bill is indeed illegal.
They also don’t believe that they should correct any of their lies. For example, MP Robert Jenrick claimed that Labour left office with backlog of 450,000 asylum cases, when the actual figure was 18,954. He was in no hurry to correct the record.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is apparently reluctant to let any information out of the Treasury. It’s our taxes, we should have a right to know. What does he know that we don’t?
Sunak created the Business Council (PMBC) to advise him, but №10 won’t release the names of the companies involved or copies of minutes from his meeting with the group last December, saying “Having carefully considered the balance of public interest in relation to this matter, I am of the view that it falls in favour of withholding this information”. We do know who the members are, however, and they include Shell and BP. Shouldn’t it be in our interest to know who is having influence over policies which affect our lives?
Questions have been raised about the goings on at Tees Freeport, but the government won’t allow the National Audit Office to conduct a full investigation.
MP Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed (admitted) that the government had introduced voter ID to ‘gerrymander’ (sic) the election in conservatives’ favour (it didn’t work) but there is no investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Electoral Commission or Cabinet Office.
A report warning about the dangers of private equity taking over the water industry that was produced 20 years ago, and not published then, should have been released under the 20 years rule last year, but is still being hidden from us.
When they tire of saying that investigations are not in the public interest, they claim that the country has moved on, or that it is time to move on. For example, MP Ben Bradley reacted to fresh Partygate allegations against former PM Boris Johnson by saying “I think the world’s moved on” (judging by the reaction on Twitter he is wrong).
So, what do they consider to be in the public interest?
Conservative MP Bob Seely thought it might be in the public interest for the Home Secretary to hypothetically be able to remove a 14 year old Sudanese child ‘back’ to Rwanda.
The pattern is clear
Is there a pattern here? Could it be that every piece of information suppressed would either reflect badly on the Tories or lead to demands that they change their beloved policies?
The only people who benefit from suppressing the truth are the government, who want us to keep on voting for them so that they can continue to govern in their own interests, not ours.
It’s the Tory party that is not in the public interest.