15 May 2009

"Transparency will Damage Democracy"

Great to see Heather Brooke getting at least *some* recognition for the huge service she has done transparency in this country by fighting for access to details of MPs' expenses, thanks to her fascinating piece in the Guardian today, which lets her tell the real story behind recent events. Do read it if you can: it's an extraordinary tale of dogged refusal to give up in the face of unremitting parliamentary arrogance. Best quotation:

"Transparency will damage democracy."

I just hope she gets at least a juicy book deal out of all this - I'll certainly buy a copy, and will promote it as much as I can. After all, it's the Telegraph that is getting most of the glory for this, when she did 99.9% of the work, which is downright unfair ("Unsung hero" is the all-too apt title of her Guardian feature).

Amazingly, and to her eternal credit, she's remarkably lacking in bitterness about this:

As a campaigner I was thrilled to see the details finally put into the public domain. This is important information that the public have a right to see. But as a journalist, I was livid. I asked myself - what is the point of doing all that work, going to court, setting a legal precedent, dealing in facts, when every part of the government conspires to reward the hacks who do none of these things?

But I don't begrudge the paper. It is getting the story out in the most cost-effective way possible. What's unforgiveable is that the House of Commons repeatedly obstructed legitimate requests and then delayed the expense publication date and that MPs went so far as to try to exempt themselves from their own law. I wonder, too, how much we would have actually seen if we'd waited for the Commons to publish, given that MPs were given a free hand to black out anything that was "personal" or a danger to their "security". These terms have been so overused by MPs that I've no doubt that items such as cleaning the moat would have been removed for "security" reasons, as would the house-flipping scandal, as an invasion of MPs' privacy.

Kudos to all involved.

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