Ed Miliband’s instincts are strongly in the right place, but in several recent speeches the solutions he offers don’t match his ambitions. He is right to make challenging unaccountable power his commanding theme, but his proposals to counter it are in many cases inadequate to achieve his purpose. Thus in order to deal with the grotesque levels of inequality at the top of the banks and Big Business, he proposes to put a shopfloor representative on the remuneration committees which are the vehicle for these excesses, but one worker or even two or three would still be easily outvoted and anyway outmanoeuvred by the backroom deals designed to circumvent them. If the aim is to shut down theses excesses by greater transparency, he needs to go the whole hog by introducing Enterprise Councils in the largest companies comprising representatives of all the main grades of employees, from the boardroom to the shop floor, and using this forum to discuss not only company performance but pay claims at all levels.
Miliband has also proposed forcing clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to appoint patients to these committees. Since these are currently made up of GPs if not actually outsourced to big private healthcare companies, often the same as private healthcare providers and thus creating a blatant conflict of interest, this is an important idea. The aim is to involve patients in overseeing major changes to local NHS services. But again, are patients going to be a match for GPs or professional administrators in reconfiguring NHS provision, and will there be enough patients with enough expertise to stand up to or face down sustained resistance from the medical or private sector establishments? Miliband says no change could be proposed by a CCG without patient representatives being involved in drawing up the plan, but what is discussions within a CCG reach an impasse – who prevails?
A third example concerns oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies – again he’s right to home in on this because the current supervision of the spooks is a scandal. The chair and members of the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee) are chosen by the PM without any reference to Parliament, they investigate what the PM asks them to do but do not range wider according to their own concerns, they are dependent on what GCHQ and MI5 MI6 tell them (and the Snowden revelations show that most of what really matters is kept from them), and they report to the PM who can then secretly edit their report before publishing it or simply not publish it at all. Miliband is rightly concerned, but only proposes that an Opposition politician should chair the ISC rather than a Government MP. Frankly this will change little or nothing. The whole process of a band of Establishment trusties being appointed by and loyal to the PM of the day should be scrapped: it is no more or less than a corrupt facade devoid of genuine accountability. So, Ed, what are you going to put in its place which will really rein in the spooks within the bounds of democratic governance?