It shouldn’t happen to a blogger: waiting for Westminster

For the last 5 weeks, Monday has arrived, and with it, a misguided revival of optimism that maybe, just maybe today will be the day I actually get what I’ve been asking ever so politely for. But yet another has come and gone without so much as a peep.

The target for my boiling frustration is that bunch of people we voted in supposedly so they could work on our behalf and protect our best interests. Right now, I have no choice but to conclude that the same said ineffectual clump of pen-pushers and policy-makers at Westminster are currently making it as difficult as they can for me to tell you stuff in the hope I’ll give up.

They’ve not met me, obviously.

Whilst they’ve not bundled me into the back of an unmarked MI5 vehicle and chucked me in the Thames wearing concrete knee-highs, they’re certainly not forthcoming with the information I keep asking for on dairy stuff. The stuff that once you’ve read, I hope you’ll be glad you have, even if you don’t like what’s said.

They will succumb eventually, as I shall chip away until they do.

On 25 November, I contacted the Dairy Council to double check the facts I had amassed. By far, these fellas get the best marks in terms of response time, willingness and quality of answer. But they couldn’t answer everything, and so suggested I contact Defra. So I did, and asking that which remained unanswered.

I spoke to a nice girl in the press office, and I thought I’d cracked it, until she emailed me shortly after, explaining that because I wasn’t writing for an actual publication in this instance, she had to refer my enquiry to the Defra Helpline. Just imagine the longest, static queue you can, triple it, stick an overworked team of call-handlers at the other end and then you’re probably picturing the system I’d been involuntarily shoved into.

Apart from the customary email auto-response, I heard nothing for 9 days, and then it wasn’t exactly what you’d call progress. The email explained that some questions weren’t “their department”, so I should contact the Food Standards Agency about those. But the questions which were “their department”, will follow. But who knows where or when?

So, I contacted the FSA – the press office, no less – who promptly told me that some of the questions I was now asking them were indeed the responsibility of Defra, and required answers which, it was implied, Defra should have had at their fingertips. “But I’ll help you anyway,” said the kind chap on the end of the line, who could feel my rising ire melting the phone-line.

He did help, but not without giving me a heap of links to Governmental papers so dull they would instil suicidal thoughts into even the most optimistic hack. The information was as well-hidden in there as the proverbial needle, but I got the basics out of him at least, which was all I had wanted in the first place.

But the Defra stuff is still outstanding.

On Friday, the continued delay made me grumpy enough to trawl through the maze of all mazes, aka the Government switchboard, to find a phone number for the Defra guy who had emailed me. Funnily enough, it wasn’t included on the email.

My call was answered by a totally different department to the one advertised beside the number I’d dialled, and I was told:

“You won’t get through to them. They don’t have a telephone.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’re not trained….”

“Not trained to pick up a phone?” (Dear God!!)

“They just don’t talk to people. They just type up policies or the relevant parts of policies and then send them to people.”

“Oh. Right. Thanks.”

My next move had “pointless” written all over it, but I emailed the Defra bloke back in my best pleading copyspeak. I made the assumption he had a better side to his nature, and I was going to do my damnedest to appeal to it.

You can guess what happened. Or rather, what didn’t.

My point is this.

a) I realise that if every blogger rang up the Government with a question, Westminster would crumble into the Thames within minutes. But not many bloggers do that, and, more to the point, as a journalist, I have the right to disseminate information to people, and it shouldn’t matter whether it’s on the World Wide Web or on tomorrow’s chip paper. Publication is publication is publication.

b) Anyone should be able to find out this kind of information easily if they want it. It really shouldn’t be that difficult. Everyone should be able to access this kind of information in palatable form if they so require it. Last time I looked, there was a freedom of information act.

c) It goes a long way to explaining why people are reluctant/apathetic about questioning things which seem to be the way they are, just because that’s how it is.

But please, keep asking questions. You have a right to know EVERYTHING.

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by George

I’m George Dryden - a slightly-off-the-wall-but-in-a-good-way journalist, blogger and almost-raw vegan. In April 2014, I graduated as a Certified Health Educator from the Hippocrates Health Institute, in Florida, USA (more about George)

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