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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

.Mid Level VB.Net, C# Developer wanted - SURREY - £35k - £40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mid Level VB...

Nuclear Project Planner: Sellafield Sites

£40000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Fuel Card, Healthcare + More: Progressive Rec...

M&E Construction Planning Manager: Surrey

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Car, Pension, Healthcare: Progressive Recruitment:...

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Turkish women have been posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at their deputy PM's remarks.  

Women now have two more reasons to laugh in the face of sexism

Louise Scodie
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star