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Cameron and Osborne: when transparency declarations clash

May 20, 2014

In the Prime Minister’s declaration of “meetings with external organisations” for April 2013, he records the following event: “Drop in to Chancellor’s meeting to discuss book and digital issues”. During this “drop in”, Cameron encountered, he tells us, one more representatives from “Facebook”. And he was careful to declare the encounter.

Here’s the entry in the Cabinet Office transparency data:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 21.26.47

However, it seems that George Osborne’s memory of this “drop in” is a bit less complete. In his transparency declaration for this period, there’s no sign of his having met Facebook to discuss book and digital issues:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 21.25.20

So what happened? Did David Cameron mistake someone else for George Osborne – someone who was too polite to set him straight at the time? Or maybe the meeting took place, but Osborne forgot to drop into it – which would be a little odd because it was his own meeting. Or David Cameron was hallucinating, and was standing for a few minutes in an empty room, shaking hands with thin air. Or he just fancied writing a bit of fiction on on his transparency declaration: in which case the record of that particular incident is more of an incredibly dense ‘short story’ than a meaningful bit of transparency data. Or, perhaps the more likely option, Osborne simply neglected to register it.

Whatever the truth, it shows the force of transparency: the more light there is around, the harder it is to hide. And the more we demand it, the more our politicians will be forced to be honest and open.