Sociology

The next Lansbury generation and Labour politics, 1881–1951

This chapter explores the predominant influences of family, social class and community that shaped the career paths, and the political and social activism, of Bessie and George Lansbury's family in British politics. In 1920 the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was formed, by which time the surviving Lansbury children were now in their adult years with an age range spreading over twenty-three years. In 1912 Dorothy Lansbury married Ernest Thurtle in Philadelphia, USA, the beginning of a significant and long-lasting partnership on the left in British politics spanning the inter-war years and beyond the Second World War. Ernest Thurtle moved the Local Authorities (Birth Control) Enabling Bill in Parliament under the Ten-Minute Rule. Dorothy became Vice-President of the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA), a position she held until her retirement from public life in 1962.

in Labour and working-class lives
Abstract only
Activism, feminism and the rise of the female office worker during the First World War and its immediate aftermath

This chapter describes that the First World War and its immediate aftermath was a particularly important period when complex changes took place both in female occupational identity and in work-based activism among clerical workers. It illustrates how the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries (AWCS) sought equality in training, pay and conditions, and in this sense sought to shift assumptions about women's career opportunities. With regard to the members of the AWCS, both class and gender have played a role in clerical workers being overlooked. The chapter addresses the area that lies between the sub-disciplines of women's history and labour history. The gender-based hostility faced by the AWCS in the immediate aftermath of the First World War sheds light on ways the 'backlash' was encountered and navigated in an occupation that had seen female participation for some forty years.

in Labour and working-class lives
A comparison

After 1860 there began to develop in Britain a working-class culture, which, according to Gareth Stedman Jones, was unlike the earlier work-based and radical artisan culture of the Chartist period. This chapter shows some similarities between working-class culture in Germany and Britain during 1870-1914. In both countries males dominated and skilled workers constituted the backbone of labour organisations, whether political, trade union or social. Moreover, working-class cultures varied from area to area within each country and were faced with various competitors. Independent working-class politics and culture in Germany also stemmed from the general hostility of bourgeois parties to the labour movement. As the electoral pamphlets of the German Social Democratic Party pointed out, the price of bread and beer in Germany was thus a political issue in a way it was not in free-market Britain.

in Labour and working-class lives
A symbolic victory?

In the UK FOI policy developed in a series of phases. This chapter covers the first stage of the development covered the first eight months, from Labour entering power in May 1997 to the publication of the White Paper Your Right to Know in December 1997. At this point, FOI appeared to avoid the ‘symbolic’ trap and overt conflict so frequently seen elsewhere. A small, well-connected group of crusaders inside government took advantage of their own power and used a favourable context to neutralise opposition, with a rapid process lending momentum to a far-Reaching policy. Their efforts resulted in a hugely symbolic White Paper, rapidly formulated, that offered one of the most radical FOI regimes yet seen in the world. The vision was of a political redistribution of power opening up even the very centre of government decision-making (Terrill 2000). However, doubts remained over the policy, its workability and the levels of support for it in government.

in The politics of freedom of information
Abstract only
The retreat becomes a rout

This chapter follows the process from January 1998 to the much delayed publication of the draft bill in 1999. The FOI bill ‘swapped’ policy team and, at this point, shifted the source of policy drive. With no internal champions the push came from a combination of the legislature, the media and the government’s own waning sense of duty to its manifesto.

The chapter focuses on the growing internal pressure from within the government to change the FOI commitment. Irvine’s combative approach led to short term success but a lack of consensus for moving forward. The proposed policy was threatening to key politicians and officials but also vulnerable due to the flaws within it. As Irvine’s radical plans stalled, senior figures, including the Prime Minister had growing doubts about the policy. Flaws in the White Paper were used to revise and weaken the policy while the fading power of the radical FOI group was reduced by Lord Irvine’s own personal loss of influence.

The key moment came in 1998 when FOI was transferred from supporter Irvine to sceptic Jack Straw and the Cabinet Office team broken up. This led to a much more detailed but much weaker draft FOI bill, which inserted a veto power for government and reduced the power of the independent reviewer. The original proposals were modified within the Cabinet committee. Yet the bill survived in part due to the insertion of a ‘five year’ implementation gap and the government’s lukewarm commitment to its reform agenda. However, the bill was not a wholesale watering down, as it added Parliament to the Act’s coverage.

in The politics of freedom of information
Abstract only
Why do governments pass FOI laws?

The chapter maps out the competing dynamics of transparency reform, a policy with symbolic power that traps governments while becoming a site of contestation. In many countries FOI ‘survives’ because of its symbolism and attempted retrenchment is tempered by a combination of internal support and Parliamentary and media pressure. This double pressure of symbolism and support makes the policy difficult to drop, even for powerful leaders like Tony Blair or Lyndon Johnson. Yet the lack of public interest means it is symbolic but fragile and is fought over at the level of detail and, frequently, diluted.

The chapter ends by looking at the future of transparency policy and whether evolving new Open Data policies will strengthens FOI or simply relocates the transparency struggle. Technological changes have had a profound impact on openness (Curtin and Meijer 2006). However, the new Open Data reforms face similar obstacles and display similar patterns to that of FOI: small groups of committed supporters, bureaucratic division and lack of clarity about detail and aims underneath a ‘symbolic’ potential (Peled 2011: Yu and Harlan 2012: Worthy 2013). New ‘Open Data’ reforms look set to continue the same difficulties rather than solve them.

in The politics of freedom of information

This chapter examines how the same complex dynamics that shape FOI formulation continue after the passage of legislation. This chapter looks across the country cases, beginning with the UK, to see how FOI interacts with its wider environment and new ideas around openness (Posen 2013). It examines thematically the role of various, sometimes competing and contradictory, influences on the legislation post-implementation: including high profile scandal Lock-in of FOI legislation with the gradual ‘normalising’ of openness systems within bureaucracies over time, assisted by the integration of independent appeal bodies, helping to entrench FOI within systems as an ‘everyday’ activity (Hazell and Worthy 2010: Kimball 2012). It looks at attempts to strengthen FOI and attempts to weaken FOI. The chapter ends by mapping out the complex dynamics and pattern of post –implementation FOI. It examining what groups (government factions, users, media) and what events, both real and symbolic, (crisis, electoral victory, reform programmes) can help trigger the different dynamics and how they can change (Hillebrandt, Curtin and Meijer 2012).

in The politics of freedom of information

This chapter takes on overview of FOI. Freedom of Information (FOI) laws are difficult to resist in opposition but hard to escape from once in power. A commitment to an FOI law sends out strong messages of radicalism, change and empowerment that new governments find difficult to resist. However, when politicians regret their promises, as they often quickly do, the same symbolism makes the reforms difficult to escape from. It examines the history of the radical idea of openness, how it developed into the mainstream idea it is today and how it amounts to a battle between the symbol of the law and concrete opposition of institutions.

in The politics of freedom of information
Abstract only
Survival and afterlife

The conclusion addresses the issue of why FOI survived, despite a lack of public interest. The UK FOI policy proceeded in distinct stages: an inside struggle followed by an external/internal conflict. The initial success of the White Paper was driven by insiders, rather than outside influence, aided by a particular context and the ignorance or disinterest of many key figures. In the later stages the drivers were very different as a complex interplay of factors kept FOI ‘alive’ as a policy. Government commitment to its manifesto generally and Blair’s public commitment to FOI helped ‘lock-in’ the government to some form of legislation when Parliament and the media applied pressure.

The chapter will briefly examine the UK legislation’s performance since 2000 across various parts of government. Drawing on academic studies (Worthy 2010: Worthy et al 2011) and official analysis (Justice 2012) it looks at the use and impact of FOI. It ends by looking at whether the fears of opponents and the hopes of supporters have come to pass.

in The politics of freedom of information
The development of FOI in Britain

This chapters tells the story of the gradual movement, a tale of ‘modest incrementalism’ towards openness(Matthews 2015, 310). What began as too radical in the 1960s was becoming seemingly inevitable by the 1990s. Each ‘jump’ or reform moved FOI closer and entrenched its place on the agenda. Even the Thatcher governments, the most resolutely pro-secrecy, passed a series of access-to-information laws across local government and policy sectors. The chapter examines the frequent reform attempts through case studies of the Wilson governments (1964–70) and the Labour governments of Wilson and Callaghan (1974–79) and finally Major’s attempt to pass an ‘FOI light’ via his Code of Access. It ends by looking at the concurrent ‘locking in’ of transparency across local government in the UK.

in The politics of freedom of information