If the government now wishes to get tough on leakers, there is plenty for it to do. It might also help to start targetting the people with access to privileged information about important issues who leaked it in the first place.
The government should open enquiries into two very important sets of leaks that moved markets and made it more difficult to handle the Credit crisis. These were much more serious than a few immigration figures. It also happens to be an offence to pass on price sensitive inside information, and to divulge it before it has been properly declared to the Stock Exchange.
The first are the leaks to Robert Peston concerning the private talks between the banks, the government and the regulators over the adequacy of their capital, when the authorities perversely decided to increase their capital requirements in the midst of a serious lack of confidence. These leaks pushed down bank share prices, and made it much more difficult for banks to raise extra capital from the markets at a time when the government was threatening nationalisation if they didn’t immediately raise more money.
The second were the copious leaks of the budget proposals before the misnamed Pre Budget report this week. Chancellors used to have to resign if any tax proposal from a budget got out before it was announced in the Commons. How times have changed with this regime of the spinners.
The trouble is I don’t expect any strong aciton on these matters any time soon. It just goes to show how this government has no sense of justice and fairness. It wants to blame an Opposition spokesman rather than investigating where the leaks came from within its own organsiation and taking approrpriate internal disciplinary action.
What of course the government will discover is that in a democracy it is not unreasonable for information other than secrets important to our security to become part of the public debate. They may also discover that some of the most active leakers are Ministers themselves, who seem unable to keep to the rule that they should announce things first to the Commons. It is quite wrong to use anti terrorism legislation for any of this.