DAVID GROSSMAN: The government stands accused -
in those by now infamous words - of trying to bury bad news. That's a
very difficult charge to prove, but, what we can say is that whether by
accident, or design, there's been plenty happening in the past three months
that's been all too easy to miss.
Before September the 11th,
probably the biggest political story around was asylum. Then the government's
policy was to try to deter unfounded applications by giving out vouchers
instead of cash benefits. Tony Blair called it firm but fair.
TONY BLAIR: It isn't right that we carry
on with the present system. We've inherited a complete mess in this area
as he knows, with a backlog of tens of thousands of claims and we have
a system that will be fairer and faster and will deter the bogus asylum
GROSSMAN: The vouchers though were
hated by many Labour back benchers and so in September they were scrapped.
And while he was at it, the Home Secretary conceded that estimates of
the backlog of asylum claims were hopelessly wrong, that there were in
fact twice as many people waiting for a decision as previously thought.
But the government has
done something concrete to stop disappointing asylum statistics grabbing
the headlines month after month. In September, they announced that in
future they'll only publish the figures every three months.
And then, there're cannabis
- let's remind ourselves of what the government had to say on the subject,
shortly after it was elected in 1997.
JACK STRAW - 1997: I want to tell you now what
we are not going to do. We will not decriminalise, legalise or legitimise
the use of drugs.
GROSSMAN: So, has that policy now
changed. Well, that's a hard call to make and you certainly need a clear
head to try and work it out. They haven't legalised cannabis but instead
in October, the Home Secretary proposed reclassifying it, putting it in
the same category as prescription painkillers. If this happens you couldn't
be arrested for simple possession of cannabis but you could still technically
be taken to court. So that's clear then, isn't it?
One bad trip that the
government avoided over the past few months, is being dragged out to Greenwich
to explain what they are doing with the Dome. There's still no buyer and
no plan and it emerged very quietly in the Commons earlier this month,
that in the past year the government has spent nearly three hundred and
forty thousand pounds employing a PR company for the Dome. When I rang
the PR company to ask them what they do for their money, they explain they
answer press enquiries, press enquiries like, why does a building that's
been shut for nearly a year need a PR company. And as one building refuses
to go quietly, another will never be built.
This is Picketts Lock
in North London, the site chosen to build a brand new forty two thousand
seater national athletics stadium, to host the World Athletics Chanpionships
in 2005. It was, said ministers, to be a prestige venue for a prestige
CHRIS SMITH: It is an extremely good design
and it provides us not just with the opportunity to have a good venue for
the 2005 Championships but also for a high class performance centre in
GROSSMAN: Sporting plans though,
don't always work out and in early October, the Government abandoned the
Picketts Lock project saying it was just too expensive. The Sports Minister,
Richard Caborn, though did helpfully suggest that the world Athletics Championships
might like to hold their event in his home city of Sheffield. The initial
response of the sport's governing body to this idea though, has been less
If the world championships
look like a non starter, a definite sporting winner though has been Derek
Casey. Never heard of him? He used to be the Chief Executive of Sport
England, a body that doles out Lottery cash. He resigned in June but it
didn't emerge until November that his severance package was worth nearly
half a million pounds. Opposition MPs want to know how come Mr Casey apparently
got so lucky.
In luck too is British
Nuclear Fuels. In October they were given permission to run their mixed
oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield, a controversial decision since
BNFL was found to have falsified safety data on the plant. What is safe
to say though is that there would have been far more of an outcry if it
wasn't for the war.
The same is true about
the announcement to build a new fifth terminal at London's Heathrow Airport.
The Government have had the results of a public enquiry into the project
since December last year, but only gave the go ahead last month.
These are sheep not cows.
That might sound a rather obvious thing to say, but it was an observation
that was apparently lost on a group of government sponsored scientists
who spent five years searching for evidence of BSE in sheeps brains - only
to find they'd been looking at cows brains all the time. The Rural Affairs
Secretary, Margaret Beckett, announced this rather embarrassing revelation
in a press release posted late at night on the internet. She was though
indignant when facing accusations that she'd tried to bury the story.
MARGARET BECKETT - 22 OCTOBER 2001: There was and is absolutely
no intention to conceal or to mislead. A press pack was issued at a separate
press conference carried out the following day, which gave all the information
to any of the media who were interested.
GROSSMAN: It's report time for
the government. In the rose garden of Number Ten about to introduce Labour's
latest new idea is a very proud looking Tony Blair. The idea is for the
government to publish a yearly account of itself to voters - detailing
its successes and failures.
TONY BLAIR: The annual report is all about
holding the government to account about charting our progress against the
clear promises we've made.
GROSSMAN: Packed with glossy photos,
this must-read publication was even available in supermarkets.
But if you're looking
for a copy of the annual report this year, perhaps as some last minute
Christmas present, don't bother because ever so quietly with no publicity
at all, in October the government announced they'd no longer be publishing
But of course you can
find out all this information for yourself now can't you. In November,
the government published its timetable for bringing in its new Freedom
of Information Law. And you and I will be given far more access to far
more government information before the Christmas decorations come down
in January. January 2005.