YOU’VE probably never heard of Ivan Lewis, a rather obscure Labour politician. But yesterday Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, unveiled an astonishingly sinister proposal which threatens free speech and media plurality in the UK like never before: he called for a register of journalists, with anybody deemed not fit struck off and banned.
Of course, elements of the British media have behaved very badly and there are lots of things wrong with the industry. Criminals should be prosecuted; bad practices should be rooted out. Media outlets should do their best to be accurate and correct themselves if it turns out they got it wrong.
But journalism is a trade, not a profession; the idea that its practitioners should be licensed, that it should be a closed shop that only people who have passed a test can enter; and that a politically created quango can determine who is “right” and who is “wrong” and should therefore be banned is appalling and dangerous. It is a sure route to eliminating free speech and ensuring that only “approved” views can be aired.
These days, there is a continuum between a lone tweeter or blogger with a dozen followers to a star broadcaster who speaks to 10m people every day. One cannot arbitrarily draw a line between journalism and non-journalism any more. All should be protected by free speech; all should be held responsible for what they write or say.
It is amazing how illiberal the Labour party has become. The journalist licensing idea comes as Ed Miliband claimed yesterday that he or someone in authority would be able to make a distinction between a “good” and a “bad” business, a “producer” and “predator”. But what is his definition of asset stripping? How can a politician know what kind of assets should be held together within a business and which should be separated? What is a “fast buck” – and when is money or wealth built up slowly enough to qualify as morally acceptable?
For every failure of private equity, there are numerous case studies that have ended up as job-creating turnaround stories. Private equity is probably a superior system than listed firms because management incentives are aligned with those of owners.
Liberalism is dead in the Labour party: it believes in telling people who can and cannot be journalists, what is and what isn’t morally acceptable, and levying arbitrary double and triple-taxes on people it doesn’t like. Unfortunately, it has also lost touch with economic reality. The only good businesses Miliband mentioned were “real engineering” companies and those who “train, invest, invent, sell” (anybody knows a single firm that doesn’t do at least two or three of these?). The only “good companies” he mentioned by name were Bombardier and BAE Systems; the only business leader he name-checked was Sir John Rose, ex boss of Rolls-Royce. All three are long-established, manufacturers and sell lots to governments; I have nothing against them but it says a lot about Miliband’s priorities. What about the dominant services sector? And aren’t all firms that follow the law, create jobs and thus fund HMRC “good”? The only other firms he likes are small businesses “who can’t get a loan” (what about those that can?).
Labour has abandoned Blairism and is once again a party of the old left. Miliband has no credible plan whatsoever to boost the UK’s growth and competitiveness. How incredibly depressing.
Follow me on Twitter: @allisterheath