By itself, even the most public of scandals won’t fix the police, the banks, the energy companies. It’s time for the sledgehammer

These institutions are behaving like alcoholics who cannot resist another drink

Share

Over the last few years much light has been shed on institutions that previously functioned in semi-darkness. One consequence is that we know more about the misconduct, greed or incompetence of those whom we used to trust. Yet the misconduct, greed or incompetence recurs like some eternal nightmare. The light might be brighter but the offenders do not seem to care. From bankers to the police, nothing seems to be learned from the previous scandal. Instead, there is a familiar sequence. A crisis erupts in some revered institution; for a time, all hell breaks loose; then the fuming scrutiny subsides and, sooner or later, the same offence is committed again.

Recall the raging headlines in relation to the Metropolitan Police after the original Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Or the discovery of unhealthy relationships between officers and journalists in the various hacking investigations. Or the revelation of a scandalous cover-up over the Hillsborough stadium disaster. None brought about a culture of determined virtue. Next, we had the Plebgate saga that led to the downfall of an elected cabinet minister. Mendacity and cover-up played their parts once more.

In 2008, bankers who had led economies to the precipice and grabbed vast bonuses fleetingly showed a degree of contrition in public. Now, they go for it all once more, grabbing even bigger bonuses although aware of the outrage that will follow.

The layers of BBC management with blurred lines of responsibility for output were the fundamental cause of the recent crises that have rocked the Corporation. But as the broadcaster bids for a higher licence fee, it is threatening to cut output while the layers of managers remain largely in place.

And what about newspapers? Some journalists broke the law to get stories. In response, newspapers insist they are above the law, seeing no reason why they should accept the regulation Parliament seeks.

Meanwhile, energy companies are under huge political and public pressure over their pricing policies. Yet their response, last autumn, was yet more above-inflation increases in customer bills.

Recurrence is the theme, here. All these different industries and institutions are behaving like alcoholics who know they are in trouble but cannot resist another drink – and, on some level, believe that they are entitled to have one. What is the mindset of the senior bankers at the Co-op who have done little in their new posts?

They will have seen what has happened to others who showed indiscriminate greed. Still they go ahead, though, awarding themselves gargantuan bonuses. What was the thinking, after all the coverage of police misconduct, behind the suggestion the best way of dealing with Andrew Mitchell was to lie about what he said in a private meeting with officers?

Politicians might huff and puff, but in the end cultural pressures are not enough to bring about necessary change. Partly, the explanation for repeat offending lies in a lack of clear, robust accountability. A senior and decent figure in the Metropolitan Police has complained to me that officers are accountable to the Mayor, the Home Secretary and others. They are responsible to so many in theory, but to no one in particular. Complacency breeds in such circumstances. The banks were lightly regulated, the only debate whether the rules should be lighter still. Energy companies move as one and customers can do little about it. When Ed Miliband proposed to act, the outrage was completely over the top in some quarters. No wonder that companies feel protected. The BBC tends to respond to crises caused by over-management by appointing more managers, its only overseer – the BBC Trust – virtually powerless to intervene.

The repetition of the same damaging sequences is common. In the 1970s, the darkest recurrence revolved around the trade unions. The Heath government fell as it struggled to implement an incomes’ policy. The Wilson administration noted the failure and pledged not to repeat it. But it very quickly did and, under Jim Callaghan in 1979, it too fell while struggling hopelessly to maintain a statutory pay policy. Finally, a sledgehammer was required to address the repetitive crises.

It is wholly beneficial that light shines on institutions that are used to darkness, but transparency is not enough, by itself, to avoid repeat offending. Both Tory and Labour governments have proven to be reluctant interveners. There are no other elected bodies that will do so, however. The Government therefore has no choice but to become more vigilant. Evidently the police, and not just the Metropolitan Police, must be reformed, with the addition of intense and persistent scrutiny from ministers. Equally, the bankers apparently do not realise that 2008 marked the end of the free-for-all, so will have to be compelled to act differently. The only alternative is that we are horrified by similar revelations again, and again, and again. It is time for another sledgehammer.

Stop the speculation, Nick

The Liberal Democrats’ mid-year conference generated headlines about Nick Clegg’s future plan. No doubt this was not the aim, but the contradictory news stories certainly highlighted the dangers of speculating about the unknown future.

Some suggested Clegg would stand down after the 2015 election if there were no coalition. Others reported the clarifying statement in which he declared it was his intention to stay on as leader in any circumstances. Intentions can change, though. I would be very surprised if Clegg served a full parliament as leader from the opposition benches, but none of us can know for sure.

The Lib Dems face a daunting challenge at the next election. I spent a few days in Bath last week, a seat currently held by them, and kept on bumping into people who had voted for Clegg’s party last time but who insist they will not do so next year even if that means the constituency elects a Tory MP.

Since the party’s victory in the Eastleigh by-election last year, there has been much talk of how the Lib Dems will surprise everyone by performing better than predicted in 2015. They might do, but their poll ratings suggest that they will struggle.

If they want a role after the election, then they should brush aside all hypothetical questions and focus solely on keeping as many of their seats as possible. Speculative responses not only lead to dangerous misunderstandings,  they can appear  presumptuous, too.

Twitter: @steverichards14

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory