Stefan Stern: Brodie Clark and the bravery that we need to encourage

Those who blow the whistle on wrongdoing are rarely popular – at least initially
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The Independent Online

Today Brodie Clark is appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee. He will finally get a chance to explain what he did or did not do in his senior role at the UK Border Force. It will be his day in the court of public opinion. But Mr Clark has already paid a high price to win the freedom to speak out. He has resigned his post after a long career. No amount of compensation for a constructive dismissal claim will make up for the shock of his sudden exit.

As with fame, whistleblowing costs. The odds are against you. Businesses and organisations reject whistleblowers rather like organisms trying to eradicate a virus. Play by the rules, knuckle down, and all should be well. Object, parade your conscience, or expose wrongdoing among the powerful, and there will be trouble ahead.

But something is up. Amid the tumult of events this year a pattern of behaviour is emerging which spells bad news for out-of-touch leaders and offers encouragement to potential whistleblowers.

Consider the actions of the Rev Giles Fraser on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral in London. Conservative voices in the Church and the City Corporation made it plain that public protest was intolerable. Action would have to be taken. Silence on Dr Fraser's part would have made his life easier, in the short term at least. It might even have proved career-enhancing. But he spoke out, and resigned. The immediate hit to his employment prospects has been softened by almost complete vindication. His reputation has grown. And his priestly virtues have been fully recognised.

Think of Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this autumn. Misrepresented at the time as "anti-business", he provoked a response from some in the media and business that will have been familiar to any whistleblower.

The argument was criticised, and the messenger was mocked. Less than two months later, a similar line of argument – concern about the lack of responsibility among some business leaders – was being voiced by Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays. A growing body of business and academic opinion has emerged to support the claim that "business as usual" is not a sustainable option.

Finally, think of the cast of whistleblowers who have exposed immoral practices in British journalism. It would have been safer to keep quiet. But their actions were endorsed at the opening of the Leveson inquiry yesterday by Robert Jay QC. He called for others to show similar "moral courage".

Whistleblowers are rarely popular, at least initially. They are encouraged, one way or another, to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. But more are finding their voice. And now is a time for truth-tellers to speak up.

Stefan Stern is a visiting professor at the Cass Business School in London