Pressed to recall a regret, Tony Blair cited the Freedom of Information Act. Doctors call this selective amnesia. And yet FoI has proved a trial for Whitehall, so officials find ways to frustrate it. Green campaigners have been interested in the government’s dealings with gas specialists and deal-brokers Lambert Energy Advisory. They’d like to know more of the actualité, and FoI seemed a good way to achieve that. But asked to reveal more, Whitehall became a little hazy. What happened last May during the meeting between Greg Barker, the minister for energy and climate change, and Lambert Energy, asked campaigners. “I have carried out a search of our electronic and paper records and I have established that the department does not hold any other information which may relate to this meeting,” said a gatekeeper at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. What, then, about the meeting in July between Lambert and Michael Fallon, now the defence secretary, then energy minister? “We do hold information related to the meeting, during July 2013, between Michael Fallon and Lambert Energy Advisory Ltd.” But “some of this related information, an internal briefing paper for Michael Fallon and an internal commissioning email from Michael Fallon’s private office to policy officials, are withheld”. So full the details never did emerge, and our call last week to Lambert Energy remains unanswered. Still, worth noting that the head man, Philip Lambert, recently dazzled peers with his thoughts on gas, shale gas and, of course, fracking.
• Scottish referendum polls prompt unionist consternation here and amusement across the Channel. “The royal family may soon be expanding but will it be presiding over Lesser Britain?” chuckled one TV show host this week. Meanwhile, Sud-Ouest, the morning paper, points out that with the loss of Ireland, this could be the second time in a century Britain has mislaid territory. And after the gloating, there are the practicalities. The UK would lose its Scottish MEPs, leaving us well behind the power-hungry French in the European parliament.
• This column, you’ll note, is paying scant attention to the forthcoming royal baby. Still, we can’t claim to be as unmoved as the Independent. With a nod to the publication’s earlier republican traditions, the great news was conveyed in just one paragraph of the paper. Writers tweeted to draw attention to the paucity of coverage. But the restraint didn’t extend to the web, where the Indy posted at least 13 articles: about Kate’s morning sickness, about coverage around the world, about the lack of interest engendered by the royal baby. Taking insouciance to a whole new level.
• With each Middle East news report more apocalyptic than the last, travel specialists are keeping a close eye on developments. Steppes Travel caters for the adventurous side of the trade, clients unperturbed by turmoil and instability. But even they have been forced to cancel the planned tour of the Iraqi Kurdistan this year. Too few clients came forward to make the trip viable. Still, they are an optimistic bunch. The planned trip next March is almost full. Steppes keeps an eye on the advice from the Foreign Office but relies much more on sources on the ground. Currently the FO cautions against all travel “to within 100km of the entire Iran/Afghanistan border; within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border; the province of Sistan-Baluchistan; and the area east of the line running from Bam to Jask, including Bam”. It advises against “all but essential travel to the rest of Iran”. Still, the human spirit is endlessly curious. Steppes has a tour to Iran and it’s fully booked.
• Finally, the times they’ve changed in Haringey, north London. In the 80s, when “loony left” headlines were a red-top staple, Haringey was a favoured target. These days, shortcomings are attributed to competence rather than ideology. Startling, then, for locals who spotted a large photo of Lenin in the window of a municipal building. It’s not what you think, a council spokesman told us. “Last week there was a crew there making a low-budget film set in a Russian military complex.” Vladimir was left behind.