Burying Bad News : Courts, loans, funding cuts, manifesto lies and more

25th February 2016 / United Kingdom

Politicians and civil servants work in harmony to deceive the British public and have done for decades. One commonly used tactic is the “burying of bad news” where news organisations are slipped various announcements at sensitive moments when a bigger story is dominating the headlines.

All of these important news stories get to be printed or published eventually and you may well have read or heard of some of them by now but the practice is designed to significantly reduce the impact of releasing bad news in an attempt to quell government scrutiny.

For instance, at the end of Jeremy Hunt’s battle with junior doctors where he dictatorially decided to force new contracts, Ministers took the opportunity and “slipped out” an announcement that it is to close 86 courts in England and Wales. This announcement may startle many in finding out that this represents one fifth of all court estates.

There was also the announcement of the expansion of the single Universal Credit benefit, the Government’s flagship welfare reform which will roll six payments into one, generally much criticised by the press and public.

At the same time ministers announced those who failed to pay their student loans would be prosecuted as it lifts the cap on the number of under-graduates.

Then there was the cutting of council public health grants by £160 million over two years, and extending Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s contract, despite the severe controversy over the handling of sex abuse allegations from the 1970s and 1980s.

Then during David Cameron’s referendum announcement the Cabinet Office quietly published the Government’s departmental plans, documents which determines how the Conservative manifesto and George Osborne’s spending review would actually turn out in the real world. It was not surprising that this constituted ‘bad news’.

The Institute of Government said not so flatteringly that the plans were “little more than a laundry list of nice-to-haves, giving no sense of ministerial priorities” and that any of the priorities are “little more than waffle” and avoided scrutiny.

Julian McCrae, its deputy director, said: “many of these individual priorities are little more than waffle, which is no use either to civil servants trying to implement the Government’s agenda or to the public trying to hold them to account. Ministers’ failure to produce a single, clear roadmap for Whitehall departments will undoubtedly limit the Government’s ability to fulfil its promises.”

I’m guessing that constitutes bad news for the government and good reason to help camouflage it

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In a not very democratic move, ministers also announced a consultation on plans to cut money given to opposition parties by almost 20 percent this years and freezing it thereafter amid Cameron’s protracted talks with EU leaders. The Electoral Reform Society, a group campaigning for better democracy, were angry at the slight of hand in the timing of the announcement.

Will Brett, head of campaigns and communications at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “The Government is launching this consultation on the day when an EU deal is set to be announced.

“A cynic might think they want to bury the news that they’re going ahead with 19% cuts to funding for opposition parties. Trying to sweep this under the carpet does British voters a real disservice.”

Given the seriousness of the impending EU referendum, the Government has admitted that it has no information on how much EU migrants cost – or benefit – the UK. Treasury Minister Lord O’Neill made the startling admission in a written Parliamentary answer that was quietly published. Ironically the Prime Minister was in Brussels negotiating EU migrant benefits – itself being the focus of headlines all over Britain.

Graham Vanbergen – truepublica.org.uk

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