The Tories attempt to delete all pre-2010 speeches from the internet

It turns out that Cameron isn't the "most transparent" leader ever after all.

How's David Cameron's pledge to be the "most transparent" leader ever working out? Not very well judging by an extraordinary story from Computer Weekly. The site reports that the Conservatives have attempted to erase all speeches and press releases issued between 2000 and until May 2010 from the internet. That's right; not just from their own site but from the Internet Archive, the largest publicly available digital library. 

Mark Ballard reports: 

Sometime after 5 October, when Computer Weekly last took a snapshot of a Conservative speech from the Internet Archive, the Tory speech and news archive was eradicated.

Conservatives posted a robot blocker on their website, which told search engines and the Internet Archive they were no longer permitted to keep a record of the Conservative Party web archive...The erasure had the effect of hiding Conservative speeches in a secretive corner of the internet like those that shelter the military, secret services, gangsters and paedophiles.

The Conservative Party HQ was unavailable for comment. A spokesman said he had referred the matter to a "website guy", who was out of the office.

And before their words disappear down the memory hole, here's what Cameron and George Osborne had to say about transparency and freedom of information before 2010. 

Cameron told Google's Zeitgeist Europe Conference on 22 May 2006:

You've begun the process of democratising the world's information. Democratising is the right word to use because by making more information available to more people, you're giving them more power. Above all, the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power - whether it's government, big business, or the traditional media.

On 11 October 2007, he told another Google conference in San Franciso: 

It's clear to me that political leaders will have to learn to let go. Let go of the information that we've guarded so jealously.

In an article for the Telegraph in 2011, he wrote:

Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats. It gives people new choices and chances, allowing them to make informed judgments about their future. And it lets our professionals judge themselves against one another, and our entrepreneurs develop new products and services.

As for Osborne, he declared in a speech on "Open Source Politics" at the Royal Society of Arts on 8 March 2007:

We need to harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible - and so bridge the gap between government and governed.

The democratization of access to information...is eroding traditional power and informational imbalances.

No longer is there an asymmetry of information between the individual and the state, or between the layperson and the expert.

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Now listen to George discussing why the Conservatives have tried to erase these pledges on the NS Podcast:

Conservative ministers listen to David Cameron speak at the party's conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Credit: Getty
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Can parliament force a government U-turn on the UK’s customs union membership?

Downing Street is trying to bully Conservative Remainers with the threat of letting in a Jeremy Corbyn government.

Nice precarious hold on power you’ve got there, Prime Minister. Shame if something happened to it.

Downing Street is insisting that there will not be U-turn on the United Kingdom’s membership of any kind of customs union with the European Union after we leave, as they face a series of defeats in the Lords and a possible defeat in a non-binding vote in the Commons on the issue.

As I explained on the Westminster Hour last night, while the defeats this week won't change government policy, they are a canary in the coal mine for the ones that can.

The nightmare for Theresa May is that, thanks to the general election, she faces a situation in which a majority of the governing party favours one approach to Brexit but a majority of the House of Commons favours another. 

The question is: what happens then? Downing Street is also pushing the line that the vote on the customs union will be a “confidence issue”, ie they are trying to bully Conservative Remainers with the threat of letting in a Jeremy Corbyn government. But, of course, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, there is no such thing as a “confidence issue” outside a very specific motion of no confidence. Or, at least, there is no such thing as a “confidence issue” – which can bring about a new parliament.

May can make the issue one of confidence in her own leadership and resign if she is defeated, but, under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, that wouldn’t trigger a new election: merely an invitation by the Queen to another politician to form a government. And frankly, as far as the Commons arithmetic goes, “another politician” is far more likely to be Michael Gove than Jeremy Corbyn. The process whereby you get even the glimmer of a risk of a Labour government by voting to keep the United Kingdom in a customs union is altogether more complicated and lengthier than Downing Street would like to pretend.

But the problem for Conservatives in particular, and Brexiteers in general, is while they can change the Prime Minister, they can't change the parliamentary arithmetic. Whether the majority of Conservative MPs want it or not, a U-turn on the customs union may well be inevitable.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.