Our current political system cannot bring about the change we need


By Lisa Nandy MP (Labour, Wigan)

As the News International crisis continues to unfold, the political system has suddenly discovered what campaigners have been telling us for years: that multi-national corporations sometimes behave with breathtaking irresponsibility.

James-Murdoch-Rupert-MurdochThe difficulty of holding those at the top of business to account, even when such behaviour is systemic throughout the organisation, has been dramatically illustrated in the last few days with the appearance of James and Rupert Murdoch before the culture, media and sport select committee.

It is certainly not news that large multinational companies operate beyond national boundaries – and in reality beyond national laws – without adequate frameworks to hold them to account, even when they violate the most basic human rights.

In the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, financial crisis and now phone hacking, I am becoming increasingly convinced that we, as politicians, have a problem that simply cannot be solved within our existing political system. The implication of politicians and police in a scandal that has rocked the world’s second largest media organisation is proof that change, if it comes, will have to come from outside.

It is increasingly clear the political system, as it stands, is not capable of bringing about the wholesale transformation that is needed.

As chair of a cross-party group on international corporate responsibility, I have been appalled but not surprised by the revelations over recent weeks.

Over the past year I have seen businesses put profits before people across the world, or turn a blind eye to actions in which they were complicit, with devastating consequences for human rights and the environment. Yet conversely I have met CEOs who desperately want to ensure their supply chains are as ethical as possible but are unsure how to achieve it.

The challenges and difficulties in this should not be underestimated; global, complex supply chains present an almost infinite number of risks. It may not be possible to mitigate against these entirely but surely it must be right that, where parent companies and corporate directors do have leverage, they should be held responsible for wrongdoing that occurs on their watch.

The UN is thankfully taking action. Last month, the UN Human Rights Council voted unanimously to introduce, for the first time, a set of guiding principles on business and human rights. These centred on three pillars: the corporate duty to respect, the state duty to protect and access to remedy once human rights abuses have occurred. These could not be more important, or more relevant.

All three pillars apply to the News International scandal; if the first two had been upheld, we would not be in the situation we are in today.

Ed Miliband has referred to this as evidence of the “irresponsibility of the powerful” but has rightly recognised the failure of all major political parties to act. Four years after a News of the World employee was criminally convicted for intercepting phone messages and a full eight years after the (then) editor of the paper admitted she had bribed police officers for information, it is unbelievable action has only just been taken.

Change must come – not just to News International, but to all multinationals, to ensure they are as transparent and accountable as individuals and governments. Without fresh conviction we cannot make progress. I have been gratified by Ed Miliband’s leadership in speaking out so strongly against News International.

As politicians, we have a duty to define, not just seek, the so called ‘centre’ of politics and on this issue he has given voice to genuine public outrage.

This could be a significant break with the past. For decades, politicians have tried to seek out, not define the centre ground, ironically often pandering to opinion defined by the Murdoch press. Since I have been in Parliament I have become more convinced than ever that this centre-seeking approach alienates millions of people and denies them a voice.

As Steve Richards of the Independent has convincingly argued, the current crisis represents an enormous opportunity for our leaders:

“Those that can break free from their past will be the dominant forces in British politics for the next decade at least.”

The election of Ed Miliband was a step in the right direction and I hope he will seize the chance to push for systemic change. But the change that is needed in the Labour party, the political system and across wider society has to be bigger than just one man. I do not think it will come from the inside, although there are many of us who would like to see it.

It has to come from party members, trade unionists, community activists and wider civil society. In the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, the banking crisis and the phone hacking drama that is currently unfolding, it is clear to all of us that change has to come, but if we do not start to demand it, I am certain things will not get better.

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  • Robert

    How many companies during Labour 13 years gave a shit about people, I watched labour allow all our industry get sold off and then moved to other countries.

    I’m disabled and had to listen to people like Hain tell me for god sake employers are desperate for you, no they are not mate.

    Another Opposition side of Labour, when your in opposition you get socialism, when in power you get Toryism

  • 13eastie

    “…as transparent and accountable as…governments…”

    Miss Nandy, what a load of blinkered, naive, idealistic, deluded guff!

    The transparency and accountability of our government has given us in recent times, inter alia:

    1. A doctored dossier (we still don’t know its true derivation) that misled Parliament took us to war on a pretext and led to the deaths of 1m civilians
    2. Cash for peerages
    3. Bernie Ecclestone’s £1m bargain refund
    4. MP’s and Peers fleecing the tax-payer to line their own pockets
    5. MP’s voting to exempt their expense claims from Freedom of Information
    6. A Downing St operation to stifle political debate by smearing and libelling opposition MP’s

    It has been proven repeatedly and beyond doubt that politicians are the last people to whom we should entrust our moral fibre as a nation.

    Your obsession with News International betrays the hypocrisy of you and your party: Murdoch himself testified that he was closer to no-one in government than Gordon Brown; the scandal of blagging / phone-hacking is not confined, as you would love us to believe, to the activities of one proprietor’s papers. You give away too easily how your motivation and Ed Miliband’s too is entirely self-serving and political.

    With regards your faux incredulity that “action has only just been taken”, I would ask, “How do you suppose this came to be?”

    The scope of the phone-hacking issue was, it is now being reported, highlighted to Blair’s Attourney General in 2006. This was the same man whose expert judgement was decisive in our going to war in Iraq. What on earth are we to make of this?

    It is notable that, while you have inexplicably been elevated to a position from which you feel able to pontificate on corporate activities, you actually have zero business experience, and this is demonstrated by the ridiculous notion that the UN should have a role to play…

    Phone-hacking is illegal. It is such a grave offence that it leads to imprisonment. There are laws to numerable too mention under which directors can be found guilty or liable for the actions of their employees in this country. I have no idea (nor is it at all clear that you do either) how we might suppose the UN might influence senior execs in this light.

    MP’s and their parties are not the solution; you are part of the problem.

  • http://redrag1.blogspot.com/ Red Rag

    Oh dear….young James Murdoch has dropped himself in the shit………….http://redrag1.blogspot.com/2011/07/red-rag-oh-dear-james-guess-who-has.html

  • Mr. Sensible

    Lets see what the enquiry throws up.

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  • Selohesra

    Are we allowed to mention on this site that the Mirror Group were up to exactly the same tactics – or have we got to stick to the evil tories evil Murdoch theme?

  • Shamik Das

    Dear Selohesra, that is completely unfair. See my concluding line in this article – http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/07/the-problem-of-blagging-goes-well-beyond-tabloid-phone-hacking-scandal/ – and read Tom Rouse’s article here – http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/07/phone-hacking-scandal-is-piers-morgan-next/

    Regards,

    Shamik

  • Anon E Mouse

    Are we allowed to mention on this site that the Guardian Media Group use tax avoidance schemes to pay less tax than the bankers despite their critism of the same and seem quite happy to print stories obtained by other illegal means such as the Wikileaks details?

    Or have we got to stick to the tories evil Murdoch theme?

  • 13eastie

    Imagine if there were a national tabloid publisher owned by a former Labour MP.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • Dave Citizen

    Beastie, Selo & Anon – tell me, what is it that motivates you to comment on these articles. Each time I read your points, hoping for some alternative take, only to find yet another version of – yeh Labour were really really bad so you can’t say anything.

    I’m not saying you are always wrong, but i don’t get the point of simply deflecting criticism back onto Labour. If you agree with what is going on say so, or better still say what you think is a better way of going.

    I for one don’t need reminding of what a balls up T Blair made of things.

  • Ed’s Talking Balls

    But perhaps a helpful reminder of the failings of G Brown wouldn’t go amiss…

  • Dave Citizen

    I’ll stick to the policies and directions thanks Ed.

    Blair & Brown’s Labour has gone and now we have a new bunch at the helm – the direction they’ve chosen doesn’t give me much hope that Britain will ever be anything special again. Instead we’re facing a worse educated population, more blaming of the poor and sucking up to the rich, continued concentrations of wealth and influence for the few paid for by the many, and the continued belief that what is good for the global free market economy is automatically good for “Britain” (read richest 20%).

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