Ed Miliband: Cameron now hamstrung by his own decisions over Coulson

18 July 2011


Ed Miliband[Check Against Delivery]

Today marks two weeks since we found out that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked by the News of the World.

Rebekah Brooks has been arrested, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has resigned.

Tomorrow we will have some of the most important select committee hearings in modern times.

It feels that everything has changed.

But the real risk remains that too little will really change.

I want to talk today about how we ensure this is not a brief moment which people will look back upon and wonder what was that all about.

Instead, I want to ensure this is a moment which will bring about a far greater sense of responsibility in our country.

In particular, a new era of responsibility among the most powerful in our country.

The heroes of the last fortnight have been the Dowler family.

In the last week, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Rupert Murdoch have all met them.

As have I.

It was incredibly moving to meet a family who have acted with such dignity after being put through so much.

Theirs is a tragic story, not just of what happened to Milly, but of the way their pain was made so much worse by:

The hacking of her phone

The failures of the police

The intrusions by the press.

The bravery of Bob and Sally, her parents, and Gemma, Milly’s sister, in being willing to come forward is humbling.

And when we were discussing what the inquiry should look at, Gemma said to me:

‘Everything about us was in the open at the trial, why do you politicians not want to get everything in the open?’

She was right.

We owe it to the Dowlers, and all the other victims of phone hacking, to get everything in the open.

The Prime Minister is out of the country, but has now agreed with me to extend the parliamentary session for at least 24 hours so that the House of Commons meets on Wednesday.

It is very important that when it does we have a proper debate led by the Prime Minister on all the issues, rather than simply a statement.

We must give MPs the chance to debate the issues arising from the select committee hearing and ensure the Prime Minister addresses the many unanswered questions that he faces.

Sir Paul Stephenson yesterday made an honourable decision and took responsibility.

It is of great concern, however, that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was unable to discuss vital issues with the Prime Minister because he felt that David Cameron was himself compromised on this issue because of Andy Coulson.

It is also striking that Sir Paul Stephenson has taken responsibility and resigned over the employment of Mr Coulson’s deputy, while the Prime Minister hasn’t even apologised for hiring Mr Coulson.

We need leadership to get to the truth of what happened.

But David Cameron is hamstrung by his own decisions and his unwillingness to face up to them.

But it is also important for the country to do something more than have full transparency on what has happened.

Every so often, an event like this happens.

And we have to ask ourselves deeper questions

What does it say about our country?

How did we let this happen?

And how do we change to ensure this does not happen again?

A few weeks ago I talked about a set of values which are the essence of Britain’s character.

Working hard.

Obeying the law.

Caring for others.

Knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Responsibility.

These are the values which bind our nation together

I want my children to grow up in a country where those values are respected.

The hacking scandal has shown some of the awful consequences of the powerful shirking their responsibility.

And this is not the first example.

Indeed, in the space of just a few years, we have now seen three major crises in British public life among people and institutions that wield massive power.

First the banks.

Then MPs’ expenses.

And now in our press.

Superficially, each might look quite different in its causes.

But there are common themes running through all three.

The banker who paid himself millions of pounds for taking the most risky investments which would land his company and the country in the mire.

The MP who fiddled the expenses system, landing himself, his party and our politics in disgrace.

The editor of a newspaper which had a culture of illegality not for the public interest but simply in the search for sales, landing their paper and the whole industry in the dock.

All are about the irresponsibility of the powerful.

People who believed they were untouchable.

This issue of responsibility is one which must be tackled throughout British society.

From top to bottom.

The failure of our country to recognize and encourage responsibility isn't just bad for fairness or people's sense of right and wrong.

It's also holding Britain back in profound ways.

Let me start with what has happened in our media because I said the Dowler family were owed an explanation of how we got here.

The whole country wants to know, how it was possible for an organization which claimed to have great sympathy to the Dowler family to act as they did.

How could those responsible for phone hacking have lost all sense of right and wrong?

And then all the other grotesque hypocrisy.

The paper which displayed such sympathy for the 7/7 victims then, apparently, hacked their phones.

The paper which claimed to stand for the military covenant then allegedly hacked the phones of the families of those who died serving our country.

A company whose papers claimed to speak for the people of Britain displayed contempt for those same people.

As each of these revelations has emerged, I have thought long and hard about how all this happened.

Ultimately, it was about individuals who had forgotten their fundamental responsibility to their fellow human beings.

But it wasn’t just the particular individuals who perpetrated these actions who were at fault.

Because we also have to explain, why it was so widespread, so systematic and why it wasn’t stopped.

Why did News International engage in denial for so long?

How could Rupert Murdoch say they have handled these allegations “extremely well” with “only minor mistakes”?

I think the answer is simple: this was an organization which thought it was beyond responsibility.

Its power was so immense, its influence so great, from Prime Ministers downwards.

Nobody confronted them.

Nobody held them to account.

Nobody seemed willing to really challenge them.

Not the police, not most frontline politicians, nor most of the press.

An organization whose newspapers demanded greater responsibility among the powerless in our society, believed it was so powerful that it was beyond that self-same responsibility.

It was one of the great failures of politics that their power went unchallenged for so long.

For all that the reputation of politics has been damaged of late, who else can stand up to powerful interests?

That is part of what politics is for.

We cannot allow it to happen again.

And we must also make sure we get to the bottom of the relationships between the press and the police.

Clearly, the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson speaks to the scale of the issues that need to be faced.

There are questions about why the first police investigation failed.

And why it wasn’t reopened.

Whether the police were too close to those they should have been investigating.

And there are wider issues that will need to be looked at about information flows between the press and police, and the specific allegations made about payments to the police.

I said earlier that the crisis in our media had something in common with what happened in politics and banking.

Of course, there are differences; not least that nobody responsible for the banking crisis appears likely to end up in prison.

Yet that should not obscure the similarities.

The banking crisis too was a story of vaulting power and of shameful failures of responsibility.

It was the closed culture of recklessness and excess in the banks that completely disconnected them from the reality of most peoples’ lives.

It allowed some executives to receive vast salaries and bonuses which often did not reflect the contribution they made or the way they were putting our entire economy at risk.

Powerful people who answered to nobody.

And when they were in crisis, they turned to the rest of us to rescue them.

They were too big to fail and all of us bailed them out.

Yet they have now returned to business as usual.

Still getting the big bonuses.

Still not lending the money to the firms and entrepreneurs that will create the jobs we need in the future.

And what about my profession?

Again there are differences.

But there are similarities too.

We saw the same shirking of basic responsibility.

A culture of entitlement in Parliament, where some MPs thought it normal to take as much as they could.

They had lost touch with the people who sent them there.

They abused the people’s trust.

They stole from the taxpayer.

And that is why they went to jail.

The expenses system which brought MPs low was seen as outside the law.

The people who fiddled the system thought they were untouchable.

Nobody would hold them to account.

So in the press, in finance, in politics, we have seen behavior by the powerful which has shown the greatest irresponsibility.

People who thought they were beyond the law and responsibility, people who let down our country.

The irresponsibility of the powerful is particularly wrong.

But irresponsibility is not confined to the powerful.

And irresponsibility, wherever it is found, is holding Britain back.

Irresponsibility has undermined our press and politics, reducing public trust.

It has undermined enterprise and business, making it harder to build support for the wealth creation we need.

It has undermined our welfare system, making it harder to provide the security we all want when we lose our job, when we get old.

Across the country, there is a yearning for a more decent, responsible, principled country.

It is not only the duty of those with power to exercise responsibility.

It is the duty of us all to ensure that they do.

We need to restore responsibility as the great British virtue. We need to build a culture from the boardroom to the benefits office.

So how do we achieve that goal?

If we are to restore responsibility to its proper place in our nation’s culture, it must start with the most powerful.

Because when those at the top of our society behave in the way they have, it sends a message about what is and isn’t acceptable.

What is a young person, just starting out in life, trying to the right thing, supposed to think when he sees a politician fiddling the expenses system, a banker raking off millions without deserving it or a press baron abusing the trust of ordinary people?

Or when large corporations avoid paying their fair share of tax, or any chief executive pays himself over the odds?

It sends the message that anything goes, that right and wrong don’t matter that we can all be in it for ourselves as long as we can get away with it.

Politicians must be willing to speak out on these issues without fear or favour, about the top to the bottom of our society.

Secondly, we need the right rules,

We needed to reform the benefit system to encourage a sense of responsibility.

We can’t endorse a something-for-nothing society

But we also need rules at the top.

For MPs, we have reformed the expenses system, but there is a long way to go before we earn back trust.

In banking, we have further to go still.

We have not properly tackled the bonus culture and we need to do so.

That is why Labour has proposed another year of the tax on bonuses.

In the press we need the right rules in place so that we can have a free press, not regulated by politicians, but acting responsibly.

That means we need a proper system for when things go wrong.

When a newspaper makes a mistake, it should have to publish a prominent apology. Not bury it away on an inside page.

When a newspaper wrongs someone, it should have to pay compensation and not force them to go to the Courts.

And the ethics of newspapers should be judged not by their fellow editors but independent people.

Third, we all know that it is large concentrations of power that lead to abuses and to neglect of responsibility.

Markets work in the public interest when there is proper competition and excessive power does not reside just in a few hands.

The banks were too big to fail and neglected the interests of their customers.

That is why we must ensure that when the reform of our banking system is completed, it is on the basis of a genuinely competitive banking market, without relying simply on a few big institutions.

And the same is true in our media.

Before the closure of the News of the World, News Corporation controlled nearly 40% of the newspaper market.

It also owns 39% of BskyB, giving it huge power, including effective control of two thirds of the pay TV market through the Sky platform, alongside Sky News.

Politicians should have confronted this earlier.

And, let’s be honest, the reason we did not was, in part, because News Corporation was so powerful.

I do not think that is healthy.

It is not healthy for a country that believes in responsibility all the way to the top of society.

It is not healthy for our democracy, where we see too much power in one set of hands.

It is not healthy for consumers.

That is why Labour will be submitting proposals to the judicial inquiry for new cross media ownership laws.

And I urge David Cameron and Nick Clegg to join with us in pressing for the change we need.

We should all find the courage to challenge other areas where concentrations of power damage our country.

Six energy companies control 99.9 per cent of the consumer market.

This cannot be right and we must take action to open up the market over the coming months

To ensure a more responsible country we need a culture which demands it, rules which enforce it, and to break up concentrations of power which undermine it.

When I think about the kind of country I want my kids to grow up in, I think about a country where people look out for each other, look after each other, care for each other.

Every big challenge Britain faces, requires this sense responsibility to each other.

We need greater responsibility at the top so there is not simply greater and greater inequality in our country

We need to show greater responsibility to the next generation so that they can do better than the last, so that a decent education, access to housing or the chance of a good job, does not become the preserve of just a privileged few.

And we all need to show responsibility if we are to build strong communities based on trust and mutual respect.

The resolve to address irresponsibility, including among the most powerful, reflects the common ground on which the vast majority of British people stand.

There was a time when criticising people at the top was seen as being anti-aspirational.

But now, when irresponsibility at the top is holding Britain back and corroding our culture, it is our duty to speak out.

Anything else would, frankly, be anti-aspirational.

The task for all politicians is to speak directly to the concerns and common decency of the British people.

We have been for too long, too reluctant to look the powerful in the eye and tell them that they, too, must change.

Without fear, and withour favour.

Britain won’t accept anything less.

That is what has been different about the last fortnight.

The old games played our between the powerful to the exclusion of everyone else, must stop.

But the danger is that this whirlwind blows through our country, and then we go back to business as usual.

I am determined that we must not let this happen.

We must make the lasting change that is necessary for the sake of the Dowlers and all the victims of phone-hacking.

To insist that everyone must show responsibility, including the most powerful.

That everyone must play their part.

That we can build the responsible society that Britain demands.