Tom Watson writes to Eric Pickles over FoI refusal

Tom Watson MP

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

Secretary of State

Communities and Local Government

Eland House

Bressenden Place



28 October 2010

Dear Eric,

I refer to the story reported this morning on Labour Uncut and in the Local Government Chronicle about your refusal to comply with an extremely straightforward freedom of information request.

I respect you for your faux-plain speaking bluffery, your genuine bonhomie and general chutzpah. I like you. So I am not going to insult you.

I was once a minister like you are now. I spent quite a while quite close to the centre of government. Indeed, I’ve been involved in politics, one way or another, since I was 16 years old.

So I know that the government does not disclose its legal advice. We both know that. Everybody knows that.

And I’m not going to waste your time by asking you to disclose your legal advice. You’re better than that, Eric, my old chum.

In return, please don’t insult me, the Local Government Chronicle, the Information Commissioner and the electorate by pretending that that was the question.

What the LGC asked, as you perfectly well know, was whether you took legal advice about the potentially defamatory statements you or one of your ministers made about a member of the Audit Commission. (The LGC has clearly stated that their senior CLG source wasn’t an official or a spin doctor).

Your Department’s response is unbelievably disdainful:

“[We] do not consider the public interest in knowing whether the department and the secretary of state may have sought or received such legal advice and the nature and content of such legal advice if any had been provided, to be particularly high.”

The statement takes the biscuit for arrogance.

You use public money to protect your own back after you or your ministers have been unlawfully shouting your mouth off, and it’s “not in the public interest to know”?

Come off it, my old chum. Transparency cuts both ways. You can’t stuff your face all day with new politics cake and still have it left to eat when you’re hungry in the middle of the night.

Comply with the FOI request now before you lose the appeal and end up looking even more ridiculous than you already do.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Watson

Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East

Leave a Reply