The consequences of Lord Justice Leveson’s report will be debated long into the New Year by some sections of the broadcast media whilst the print papers will probably look to avoid any mention of the esteemed Judge’s name. That’s not surprising. Nor was the fact that the Prime Minister surrendered to Fleet Street even before the ink had dried on a report that carried the personal authority of – well – the Prime Minister himself, and had cost the taxpayer £5.6 million.
Perhaps what is surprising is how much of Leveson’s report has fallen by the way side. I was particularly interested in his recommendation which suggested that the newspaper industry work harder to more accurately define the “public interest”. As newspaper sales continue to dwindle, they must find a way of recapturing what it is that truly resonates with the public.
I believe that Fleet Street’s finest are at their best when they are exposing corruption, fraud and illegality, not when it is uncovering stories of who slept with whom and who lost weight versus who gained it and other such pap.
The MPs’ expenses scandal was a first class example. It shocked the country, it changed the culture of parliament and it is still making headlines three years later.
So that is why I am so shocked that an issue which has been described by one of the UK’s most respected public law professors, as “the worst human rights abuse in relation to workers” for more than half a century in Britain, is not demanding more attention of the newspaper proprietors.
Seumas Milne wrote about this issue in the Guardian. He demonstrates what I have been campaigning for in parliament through the tabling of my early day motion; blacklisting is a great wrong against hard working men and women and the Government isn’t doing a thing about it.
The very people who are supposed to protect the public are, instead, abandoning them. The previous Labour Government did pass the 2010 Blacklisting laws, but it hasn’t proved to be strong enough. But if Leveson proved that Cameron can often be too cosy with the press, Blacklisting demonstrates the extent to which he hates the Trade Unions and is willing to allow people to suffer as a result.
For those who are not as au fait with the travesty of blacklisting as others let me be clear what we are talking about.
Major UK companies have been paying annual subscriptions to ‘spying’ companies that produce lists for private sector companies which include information collected on workers. And it is not just the basic name, address, employment history either. The kind of information contained in the brief includes comments such as: “recently seen at a leftwing meeting”, “politically motivated” and “involved in a dispute” in previous jobs. The long and short is that companies are not hiring anyone they know are represented by a Trade Union because they want to be able to waive workers’ rights as and when they wish.
It is like an episode from our Cold War history and our leaders are choosing not to act.
The phone-hacking scandal revealed that illegal activity was rife in some of our newspaper newsrooms. What blacklisting research has revealed is that, as Milne articulates, the “illegality, surveillance and conspiracy is incontrovertible”. There is no ambiguity. Workers who are members of Trade Unions are being turned away from jobs – including jobs undertaking work awarded to companies through the public sector.
The truth is, the cost of blacklisting may not ever be calculated. We don’t fully know how much it is costing the economy in lost income, “enforced joblessness, family and psychological breakdown, emigration and even suicides” or even in NHS treatment.
What we need now is action. There is a tendency in Britain today, to stereotype everyone on benefits as scroungers. And yet here we have the reality; ordinary skilled workers who have worked and who want to work being told they can’t work, whilst millionaires like David Cameron and George Osborne who have never worked and simply inherited vast amounts of wealth, are sitting pretty.
Puts it into perspective doesn’t it? And it challenges the conventional orthodoxy that is used by Tories in the Chamber of the House of Commons but which only serves to reinforce the point that Ed Miliband made which is, that the people who have been blacklisted are the kind of people that Cameron will never meet and never understand.
Earlier this year I tabled an EDM regarding the need for justice for blacklisted workers that were unwillingly and unknowingly on lists ascertained by 44 construction companies.
There are some steps that should be followed urgently. Right now, the Information Commissioners Office must work far harder to seize all documentation and files relating to blacklisted workers from the Consulting Association. Only then will we know the full picture. Secondly, the Chancellor, along with Vince Cable and Iain Duncan Smith must now accept that the existing blacklisting regulations do not offer enough protection and are not fit for purpose, and that it should be a criminal offence to supply, compile, solicit or use information in connection with a prohibited list.
We know that the police and security services were complicit in compiling these lists of information on blacklisted workers that were then sold to companies for their information. In fact, we also know that the extent of corruption is much broader, with lists being compiled, not only on construction workers, but on academics and journalists as well.
Thirdly, all victims of blacklisting must be paid compensation immediately so that they can begin to rebuild their lives devastated by this practice.
Finally, I believe that we should have a full scale public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal so that there can be no cover up and we can get to the bottom of the corruption that successive governments have allowed to manifest for too long.
Blacklisting is a first class example of how the workplace has been corrupted and how those in positions of power have abused that power at the expense of the ordinary man and women in this country. We must take this issue seriously.
Steve Rotheram is the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton and member of the NEC