Friday, August 19, 2022

Labour and the "hat game"

Last night, soon-to-be-former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma made it clear that he wanted to be thrown out of the party. I don't actually care much about Labour's internal backbiting, but there was an interesting bit in his interview:

Another explosive claim from Dr Sharma is that he said the MP intake of 2020 were recently forced to attend a workshop ahead of election year where they were coached on how to handle information.

"One was obviously, shut up, don't talk about anything. Not about this, but anything. Don't say anything for which the Prime Minister has to stand up and do a media stand-up. But also, how not to get an OIA'd issue, so how to talk to somebody without having a track record of it so nobody could track it down the road."

Dr Sharma alleges staff in the Prime Minister's Office wear two employment hats and pick which one they're wearing when they receive information.

"They said the staffing arrangements are done in a way that some staff work part-time for Labour Leader's Office and part-time for Prime Minister's Office and when they want to prevent OIA, they just sort of make it that this is Labour Leader's problem, this is not the Prime Minister's office problem and then they can get away with it."

Combined with his earlier claim about advice from the PM's office to "not give anything in writing and do not expect anything in writing [as] Everything can be OIA’ed", its more evidence of Labour's ongoing information control-freakery and hostility to transparency. And people are already excavating to find the paper-trail on it.

The latter bit though is well known - the "hat game". And while its a problem, its also not as powerful as Labour seems to think it is. Why? Because the Ombudsman has ruled that information held by Ministers is official by default, and that overturning that presumption requires evidence that the information was received or held in a different capacity. So, if the Minister plays the hat game, complain. That way the Ombudsman will look at it, rather than the question just being left to a Minister's self-serving judgement.

(And obviously, if they try playing the hat game on their OIA workshops, then insofar as Ministers, parliamentary Undersecretaries and their staff are concerned, its a non-starter. Because keeping Ministerial records and handling OIA requests are explicitly Ministerial functions, so the information cannot be held in any capacity other than an official one...)