Foreign Secretary William Hague boldly said earlier this year, when the court case about British torture during the Mau Mau insurgency was being held, that it was his intention "to release every part of every paper of interest subject to legal exemptions". He was joking, of course, Tory-style, like Cameron promising to make public the tax details of all members of the coalition cabinet, after the May elections, without saying which year. Geddit? The words "subject to", of course, were Hague`s "get-out clause", as, guess what, the "legal exemptions" are secret! Heard the one about Royal Mail being worth only £3.3 billion?
During the court case it emerged that many documents relating to events at the time of the British empire had not been released for scrutiny as they should have been under the terms of the 1958 Public Records Act. Strange that, especially as a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) made another bold claim that a feature of our democracy is that "we are willing to learn from our history"! This "history" is Michael Gove territory, where facts are apparently all-important, Gradgrind syle,as long as they don`t upset the establishment, those pillars of decency, christianity and order.The case ended with compensation to the Mau Mau victims of British torture, which included beatings, sexual assaults and roasting alive!
Now it has been revealed that the FCO has repeatedly failed to obey the thirty year rule, with the result that an archive containing 1.2 million files going back in British history as far as the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean War in 1856, exists, but under lock and key, unavailable to the prying eyes of historians, eager to discover trivia, like the truth and facts.Why have governments allowed this to happen, and it`s not just Tory ones to blame? What are they hiding? Suspicions are raised about British mis-rule in the colonies, but other aspects of history, like the Cold War, are included in the missing archives.Is it so important to protect reputations of long gone governments and long dead politicians. Such, what Richard Drayton calls the "manipulation of history" hides the fear that the truth will result in the public losing respect for their rulers, and what Cameron calls "Britishness" being weakened. In other words, people will lose respect for their "betters" and realise that they are still being exploited and ripped off. The establishment evidently think that a culture of secrecy will maintain the status quo, and that means their wealth, power and dominance in our society will continue unabated.
Drayton recently wrote in the Guardian that "the practice of full release acts as a brake on the abuses of power"; the fact that everything states and their monarchies,aristocracies, civil servants, armed forces and politicians do will be recorded and available for scrutiny, is essential in free and civilised societies. If details of events are kept secret, abuses will continue, and history will never be accurate. Our children will be brainwashed in the myths perpetuated by ideologically-driven writers of history, and whilst that may please politicians, especially when, as in 1914, they needed volunteers for a needless war, or near election time, they attempt to out-do each other`s nationalism and patriotism in embarrassing attempts to win votes,it is not what the people of this, or any country, deserve.The purpose of a state supposedly rooted in democracy is freedom for the people, not for those who are in control.
With next year`s World War One commemorations, the countless television programmes ,media coverage,coffee-table books and such like, we have to bear in mind those hidden documents; they are not just about British mistreatment of Africans, but about wars, and the causes of wars, about deaths and why so many innocents died.
And politicians still have the nerve to talk about the need for transparency!!