Sunday, 11 November 2012

'A tsunami of filth'

Reputations in tatters: a headstone dug up and re-cycled: a corporation humbled: a prime minister warning against witch hunts: an inquiry into an inquiry. America might have monopolised world attention with its superstorm, but the howling gale currently battering the UK establishment will take much longer to clear up. The BBC, the Conservative party, Parliament, several police forces, the care system, to say nothing of the banks and big business in general - there seems to be an ever lengthening list of institutions in need of reputation restoration. Why we are now reviewing and re-writing history is one aspect of this, another is the nature of the reputations in jeopardy and the means of their recovery. Finally, there are grand questions of significance.
 So when and how did it start? I think a lot has to do with the fraught relationship between the media and politicians. When Heather Brooke (an American journalist new to the UK) used a freedom of information request to try and find out the expenses of her MP, she unwittingly started a chain of events which is still playing out in the Leveson inquiry, bloodletting at the BBC and demands for state regulation of the press. The Freedom of Information act, the Human Rights Act - both were long overdue attempts to replace our 'negative rights' culture with something more democratic. I remember at the time, hearing that doctors needed several years to hide all the rude things they'd written about  their  patients before the freedom of information requests came in. But the establishment had more skeletons in the cupboard than a few rude words on exam scripts or patients notes, as Heather Brooke discovered. And when the shit hit the fan, the British establishment - or at least the media and the politicians - started a civil war. Witness the relish with which politicians pursued the press over phone hacking, or the BBC over Jimmy Savile. And along the way there have been other incidental casualties, such as the police.
What can we do about it all? 'Management today' has published its prescription for ailing company reputations; perhaps there's something there for all of us:
'In the wake of many high-profile corporate scandals, many organisations are focused on rebuilding damaged reputations and restoring trust. Leaders' values are increasingly important as businesses seek to become more responsible, accountable and transparent. Values-based leaders can help others (employees, customers and other stakeholders) find meaning and purpose in what they do.
As well as increased motivation and engagement, if we'd had more values-based leaders around before the financial crisis, many of those high-profile corporate scandals would never have happened in the first place.'
No shit sherlock! Amazing how naive modern business can sound when out of its comfort zone. But a few 'values-based' leaders in parliament wouldn't go amiss either!
 Nearly 50 years ago in the Suez crisis, Britain's relegation to the second division of nations was brutally exposed by America's irritation with Anthony Eden . Does the fact that we no longer trust our politicians, social workers, business leaders, policemen and broadcasters signal a further relegation? To the third division perhaps? A place where corruption is endemic and baksheesh is the way of the world? Where ideals are for other nations and where injustices go unpunished?
I hope not.