Lesley Laird: ‘Leveson 2’ is long overdue
In her regular column, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Lesley Laird gives us the rundown of the view from Westminster, and the Tory cowardice with "Leveson 2".
A free press is the cornerstone of every reputable democracy in the world. However, in recent years, we have seen sections of the press in this country operate in ways that have crossed the line of what many people would see, as decent, moral behaviour. We must not be bullied into looking the other way.
Of course, many of these transgressions pale into insignificance when compared to the News of the World hacking the phone of murdered schoolgirl, Millie Dowler. This revolting act – which took place in the middle of a live police inquiry - was a new low even for what was arguably the most out-of-control part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. But out of the ashes of the News of the World’s demise, there came some hope that some light would be cast on the murky dealings on the Street of Shame with the launch of the Leveson Inquiry.
This week, Labour sought to implement the second part of Lord Leveson’s recommendations, creatively dubbed “Leveson 2”, to fulfil the manifesto commitment that we stood on at the last General Election. But our attempts were thwarted.
The final stages of the Leveson Inquiry were originally postponed while criminal probes were ongoing. These investigations were to look at who did what to who and how the relationship between the press, politicians and police allowed it to happen. With the questions it posed still unanswered and new allegations emerging it should have been more pressing than ever that it should go ahead.
Theresa May’s predecessor who, it is worth pointing out at least had a parliamentary majority, was the one who started this inquiry. Yet, with the help of her party’s whips and her friends in the DUP, the embattled Mrs May narrowly won a vote against it being completed by 304 to 295.
In order to ensure full implementation of Leveson, my colleague Tom Watson submitted an amendment to Clause 20 of the Bill that would have ensured that newspapers who did not sign up to an approved regulator would incur punitive cost provisions. This was one of the key recommendations of Leveson, yet the SNP were posted missing at the vote. Just as when they failed to oppose Finance Bill. And just as they did again this week on nursing bursaries. Quite the wee abstention habit they are clocking up!
It’s a recurring theme with this Tory Government too – failing to stand up to the rich and the powerful while ordinary people pay the price.
We saw it this week in the Commons with Leveson, but their inaction was highlighted again this week with the appearance of RBS executives before the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
As has been widely publicised, RBS are currently engaging in an act of economic vandalism in communities the length and breadth of Scotland. They are closing 62 branches across Scotland with no consideration for the effect it will have on those who live in rural and deprived communities, those who are elderly and vulnerable, or those who own local businesses.
But if you are to believe RBS, it's because so many customers want to bank online. So, there you go. It's your fault they are shutting branches!
There may not be many issues that UNITE the Union and the Federation of Small Businesses will agree on – but they are at one on this and agree how damaging these closures will be to Scotland.
It is abundantly clear what is happening - RBS are shedding assets and staff in order to make themselves a more attractive purchasing proposition for those with the big money in the City of London. And not a squeak from the UK Government.
The taxpayer bailed RBS out in 2008 to the tune of £45billion, taxpayers own 71% of its shares and the taxpayers’ interests deserve to be put before the rapacious appetites of the City.
While writing this article I am sitting with a letter in front of me from John Glen, Phillip Hammond’s understudy in the Treasury. It’s a response to a letter I sent to Phillip Hammond demanding that the UK Government intervene to stop these closures in the public interest.
In that letter, John Glen says that “customers are more able than ever to hold their banks to account by voting with their feet”. Just let that sink in for a second – the Treasury (which holds the 71% share in RBS on taxpayers’ behalf) telling taxpayers to vote with their feet and leave RBS.
What would happen if everyone was to do that? The value of our share would plummet.
Does that seem like a responsible way of dealing with this issue? No, it doesn’t, but it is typical of the lack of governance we have come to expect from Theresa May – and typical of the Tories treatment of ordinary people - and don't get me started about Universal Credit and the Rape Clause.
Not to worry, Prime Minister. Those press barons that you protected from Leveson 2 will continue to look after you… for now. But I'm not so sure about your old pal, Boris.