In the wake of McBride, we need an OBR style independent regulator for political conduct

by Anthony Painter

This morning’s announcement that Labour is going to seek OBR audit of its fiscal plans in 2015 is a smart one. Tactically, it deflects the sort of ‘black hole’ attack from the Conservatives that we have seen over the weekend. The Tories are terrified by this- hence their rejection of the idea. Has there been a more shoddy piece of work coming out of HM Treasury than its ‘analysis’ published over the weekend? Secondly, it will mean that Labour will have to be meticulous in the preparation of its plans. This may help rebuild trust in Labour’s ability to manage public finances.

And thirdly, crucially, it may help to restore some faith in politics. If that takes external audit then so be it.

There will be much scoffing at this point. In a Today programme interview this morning, Ed Balls was also asked about Damian McBride and his own role in the Gordon Brown political operation. These seems like separate issues. However, trust in fiscal policy, politics, competence, fairness are all connected. The question is how can trust be restored- not just in Labour but politics more widely.

Poor behaviour can have an institutional check. Whether it is over-spending, under-taxing, setting interest rates, regulating industry or the personal destruction of political rivals.

Now, I’m not proposing that we give the OBR responsibility for political conduct. However, the principles of monitoring and audit could apply. Instead of brushing the McBride revelations under the carpet and pretending it’s all in the past when we know that either it isn’t or has the potential to occur again, Labour could act decisively instead. It could establish mechanisms of monitoring and sanction.

Just as the banks, Parliament, the BBC, the police and the media more widely have been found short in their ethics in various ways over the last few years, the same is true of politics. Indeed, Richard Lambert has been asked to set an independent ethical conduct regulator for banks. Why not set up a similar mechanism for the Labour party?

In addition to seeking a more open type of party, the Collins’ Commission should be mandated to explore the establishment of a new ethical body, independent of the Labour party to hold anyone who is an elected office holder, works for an elected office holder, or is a party official to account against a new code of ethics. This is not about breaking the law; it’s about conduct and what we are willing to tolerate in modern politics. The ‘Political Conduct Panel’ would be in a position to monitor unethical behaviour and sanction it where necessary. It would certainly be interested in practices such as briefing against colleagues and spreading of false rumour.

The Conservative party has its own issues too and it should set up a similar body but Miliband is leader of the Labour party and that is where he can act.

The McBride years should be put behind us. Unfortunately, well meant words in the intensity of a media storm are not enough. There needs to be mechanisms to root out the corrupt, the corrosive and the malign. Resources are scarce in modern politics; trust is scarcer. Labour can add political conduct to fiscal conduct in a trust-building exercise. And remember, trust is a resource of greater value to the centre-left than right-wing governments. Labour’s wider values depend on it.

Anthony Painter is chairing the Labour Uncut sponsored Pragmatic Radicalism fringe this evening. He is author of recently published Left without a future? Social justice in anxious times ( )

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8 Responses to “In the wake of McBride, we need an OBR style independent regulator for political conduct”

  1. steve says:

    Indeed, the rotten heart of New Labour has been exposed the McBride scandal.

    Possibly the worst aspect of misconduct at top is the way it influences those below – who may want to reach the top and so mimic the behaviour of those above them. Sickening behaviour then becomes a cultural norm within the political elite.

    This despicable culture still exists within Labour. Just think of how Andy Burham’s recent proposals for the NHS were spun by some the attention-seeking scheming of a selfish and over-ambitious upstart – without any regard to the merits of the policies proposed.

    The only antidote to this poisonous culture is to value truth more highly than propaganda. The unwillingness of many New Labourites to recognise Blair’s Iraq adventure as a disaster tells us how hard this is going to be.

  2. bob says:

    The OBR is prohibited at doing anything like looking at party economic plans, that would require primary legislation.

    This murky situation is continuing with people being less than honest and in LYING about what has and is going on, How can we trust people who do not tell the truth if the perpetrators could not lie straight in bed.

  3. Ex-Labour says:

    Two issues conflated here. Lets deal with the first.

    Public confidence in Labour’s fiscal responsibility is at an all time low, and trying to get an independant review of its plans may be a way of restoring some faith. However all the conference tasters appearing in the media are still pointing to the fact that Labour are a tax and spend party. Anyone can actually make the figures tally by just saying we are going to spend x million and tax company / organisation y the same amount. Bingo – it all adds up – but its still tax and spend. I noted in your article you used the phrase “under taxed” – a Freudian slip no doubt.

    The second issue is McBride and his antics. I dont blame him as such but one of the reasons I stopped supporting and voting Labour was Gordon Brown. There was something I just couldn’t stand about the man. He seemed cold, aloof, devious and fake. This was confirmed when I read several politcial autobiographies whcih confirmed what an odious twat Brown really was. Now we have the sight of Miliband and Balls claiming “it wasn’t me gov” but the Labour ladies have already let the cat out of the bag. Apprently emails are in the files ready to drop them both in it at the appropriate time.

    Politics is a dirty business but what McBride and his team (including Ed and Ed) did was really pathetic and if I were one of the MP’s smeared by these people with innuendo, unthruths and half truths I would be looking to M’learned friends for advice. One thing I would do is make sure Miliband and Balls felt the pain of revenge in the media.

    It also throws more light on our newspapers who seemed all too keen to publish this stuff.

  4. bob says:

    Who funds such an organisation, the poor old taxpayer again or better, each party has to fund a percentage of the cost of any such regulator, on a basis of proportion of the previous election voting figures ie. against so many millions of voters, not seats won. This means all parties including independents contribute, and money must come from the parties coffers not systems such as ‘short’ money.

  5. Matthew says:

    The only people who should hold elected representatives to accounts are the electorate. The sort of ‘ethics board’ you’re suggesting would be as abused as the Standards Board for councillors is – stopping them voicing their opinions and being used to make cheap political points on opponents.

  6. Keith says:

    Brown and his nasty cabal should be made to answer for this conduct. Surely, the Labour party cannot let these people get away with this behaviour because it undermines trust in politics. No wonder confidence in politicians is at an all time low. The problem is that both Balls and Milliband were both close associates of Brown and they are hardly likely to do anything about this.

  7. Madasafish says:

    This article is nonsense and show moral bankruptcy. Basically Mr painter is saying we cannot trust politicians to act decently and we’ll appoint someone ( at great expense no doubt) to check thye do..

    I assume Mr Painter has heard of Mid Staffs and Care Homes scandals where the regulators KNEW there were problems but covered them up? If he does, he clearly has not understood the lessons of them. Which are: regulators get leaned on BY Governments!

    And if he has not, he should desist writing until he learns all about them.

    I could make a political point and say that all these scandals were under Mr Blair and Mr Brown’s watch – so blame them. Period.

    If the people at the top of a Party are decent, by and large they will do the decent thing. Clearly those who knew of McBride are worthy only of utter contempt. I see Mr Gordon Brown has refused to decry McBride.. and Mr Balls denies he knew anything about it..

    And Messrs Brown and Balls and Blair are still members of the Labour Party. Any party with any decency would throw them all out as unworthy.

    Not that the Tories were any better in office.. far from it.

    Says it all really.

  8. swatantra says:

    We had one, until this bleeding Govt abolished the Standards Board. Now MPs and their acolytes are free to do as they please, and there’s nothing you or I can do about them behaving disgracefully.

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