David Blackburn

Endangering impartiality

Endangering impartiality
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Labour’s rapid rebuttal service will respond to the Tories’ policy blitz by questioning George Osborne’s spending pledges, of which more later. No objection can be raised against this action except that the government enlisted the Treasury to deliver very detailed costings under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Times reports that the Tories are understandably livid: impartiality has been compromised. A spokesman said:

“We are concerned at any collusion and abuse of the FOI system which has involved ministers requesting costings of what are complete misrepresentations of Conservative policies, which were subsequently released. We will be asking questions in Parliament about the cost and use of resources involved, not least because the Treasury has a recession to deal with.”

Now, it may surprise Coffee Housers to hear that the Treasury doesn’t always respond to FOI requests so generously. The Spectator lodged a request to see the workings the Chancellor refers to when claiming that the 50 percent tax rate will yield more than a 45 percent or a 40 percent rate. Four months later we received a heavily redacted string of memos that made less sense than an Edward Lear poem. I suggest nothing except that consistency must be a hallmark of the Civil Service; if it is not, allegations of partiality follow.

This episode may prove to be irrelevant: the Treasury’s recent forecasts hardly suggest that No.11 is replete with flawless tipsters: but the principle is unacceptable. That there is a loophole enabling officials to investigate ‘identifiable charges or activities’ is immaterial; it should be closed.