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Government blocking inquiry into blacklisting

Sir Robert McAlpine, the giant construction firm paid £50m to help build the Olympic stadium and founded by the treasurer to Thatcher’s Tory party, is being sued by 86 blacklisted building workers for £17m in lost earnings. As a result of files seized 3 years ago of the so-called Consulting Association, code name for 40 construction companies who pooled information (often untrue) about workers which was then used to deny them employment, it is now clear that this huge conspiracy within the building industry, involving all the biggest names – not just McAlpine, but Balfour Beatty, Taylor Woodrow, Amec, Carillion and Skanska – lasted 40 or more years and ensnared a total of at least 34,000 building workers on the blacklist.

Because this victimisation was so widespread and lasted so long, this is a conspiracy more grave and far-reaching even than the phone-hacking scandal. However there is one major difference which explains the contrast in the attention these two scandals have received. In the phone-hacking case the victims were footballers, film and TV stars and other celebrities in the news. In the blacklisting case they were working class men.

Exactly as in the phone-hacking saga the police were almost certainly in collusion. A former police officer working for the Information Commissioner has said data on Consulting Association records “reads like police reconnaissance reports”, and Dave Smith, the engineer leading the fight against the blacklist, believes that some of the information “could only have been supplied by the police or the security service”. So why haven’t the government set up an inquiry into one of the biggest corruption scandals since the War?

I wrote to the Home Secretary on 23 April asking for a public inquiry partly on the grounds of this enormous and long-standing breach of employment rights and civil liberties and partly because of the apparent links with the police and security services. I pointed out too that if because of a hint of police corruption in the Lawrence case she was minded to set up a second Macpherson-style inquiry, then the same argument applied even more strongly in the blacklisting case where there has been no public inquiry.

The reply I received on 18 May from Nick Herbert, the Minister for Policing, was jesuitical in its search for an excuse to reject the obvious. It stated: “An inquiry is more likely to be suited to investigating systematic or institutional problems that cause public concern; by contrast the situation you outline essentially relates to the specific activities of a public body”. In fact the opposite is true: it is not about certain specific complaints, it’s about systematic and institutional abuse within the construction industry, and it’s a matter of the gravest public concern.   I will raise this in parliament again as soon as it re-starts on 3 September.

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