Research on Open Data and Transparency

‘Three Harmless Words’: New Labour and Freedom of Information

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Digital: GWB: NATO work session

Download my new paper on the development of FOI in the UK here


Tony Blair’s views, expressed a decade and a half apart, reflect some of the paradoxes and contradictions that accompany Freedom of Information laws:

‘Freedom of Information Act is not just important in itself. It is part of bringing our politics up to date, of letting politics catch up with the aspirations of people and delivering not just more open government but more effective, more efficient, government for the future’ (Blair 1996).

‘Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders…The information is neither sought because the journalist is curious to know, nor given to bestow knowledge on ‘the people’. It’s used as a weapon’ (Blair 2011, 516-517).

New Labour’s experience is typical of how such reforms develop. Openness laws are frequently powerfully championed, often by new governments, and then ruefully regretted. As resistance increases and doubts within government grow, they often emerge from conflict as messy compromises (see Worthy 2017).


Worthy, Ben, ‘Three Harmless Words’: New Labour and Freedom of Information (July 24, 2018). Available at SSRN:


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