Much has been made in the last few days about Tony Blair’s apparent U-Turn on the Freedom of Information Act, which allows anyone to access information about the workings of government.

Having passed the act in 2000, Blair has apparently changed his mind on its efficacy, writing in his book:

Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.

Quite a dramatic volte-face, it seems. But Maurice Frankel, the pro-FOI campaigner, points out in a very interesting article for the Campaign for Freedom of Information, that Blair had never been entirely whole-hearted in his support of the reform, and that in fact his concerns nearly derailed it entirely.

Frankel writes:

Although Jack Straw and Derry Irvine (who later took over responsibility for FOI) both wanted to bring the Act into force for central government after 12-18 months, Tony Blair’s personal intervention ensured it was delayed for over 4 years. The right of access did not take effect until January 2005.

Just 18 months later, Mr Blair struck again. New regulations were proposed, drastically limiting the right of access.

And Blair can rest assured. As anyone who has tried to make FoI requests will know, actually managing to get an answer to your question is very difficult indeed, not least because vague exemptions, such as “national security” or “commercial interest”, put the kibosh on any really interesting answers that might be uncovered.

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