“I'm guessing and hoping it's just a dumb question from somebody.”
Reverberations from the Oprah Winfrey interview continued throughout last week, and are discussed by Professor Tim Evans in The Bigger Picture on Share Radio. The Royal Family is the latest in a series of great British institutions whose reputation has been threatened by a failure to keep up with the changing - and significantly improving - norms of what is acceptable.
So in this commentary we review some of the great challenges to these institutions, and we see that in each case they have been addressed by a thorough re-visiting of their values and conduct policy; followed up by embedding those standards with training at all levels.
Let's start with financial services, with which I have been involved for the past 45 years. When I started in the City in 1976, values were based on natural integrity and the Stock Exchange’s motto ‘dictum meum pactum’ (My word is my bond). There was clear separation between the roles of Principal (market maker) and Agent (broker), which helped to keep people focused on their primary responsibilities.
The pressure to merge these roles became intense as major banks bought into Stock Exchange member firms in the 1980s, and ‘single capacity’ disappeared in the October 1986 ‘Big Bang’. The temptations of self-interest took over, and those were the seeds from which grew the 2009 financial crash: as Brian Winterflood and I discussed on air in December 2014.
The need for financial regulation was clear: initially it was on a self-regulatory basis, then it became mandatory - and based on legislation which formed the Financial Conduct Authority, as it is now called. In each regulated firm there is a rigorous process of compliance and training which applies at every level: for example, as a non-executive director of ii for the past eight months - and notwithstanding my 45 years of experience in investment services - I have already taken courses in (and passed the concluding tests for) data protection, treating customers fairly, anti-bribery/anti-corruption, client money/assets and general conduct rules.
The latest institution to become subject to this process is the Church of England (another organisation with which I am involved, as a member of the General Synod), following revelations of its failures in safeguarding over past decades. This has been taken very seriously at all levels. Conduct policy has been thoroughly overhauled, and training is now required at all levels within the Church - from parishes to cathedrals, and including both clergy and lay people. No stone will be left unturned in the pursuit of living up to the values that Jesus taught, which include ‘.. it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.’ (Luke 17:2).
Financial services and the Church are not alone in facing these challenges. The police service and judiciary has also faced substantial challenge to their behaviour when faced with the change in public values: you only have to think of situations such as ‘Stop and Search’ in order to see how these challenges have risen to the surface, and perhaps the reaction to policing at the Clapham Common vigil last Saturday evening is another such example.
Part of this is, of course, due to the intense pace of change in society. Humanity is far more fluid, both physically and in communication, than it was 100 years ago; and norms change fast, encouraged by a media which is always looking for improvement and new perspectives.
However, institutions change slowly - that may indeed have been one of the reasons for their longevity in the past - and no more so than the Royal family. One of the greatest blessings is that we are led by a Queen who has a genuine care for others wherever they come from, and - yes - a real humility in a personal sense.
But, as we know, the Royal family is not just one person: it’s an institution no less than the Church of England, and it must deal with these latest and very great challenges by looking at how other institutions have changed. That requires a thorough review of its standards of conduct, followed by professional training at all levels, on a continuing basis. No distinction must be drawn between family members and staff, and there can be no limits on seniority. All should undergo regular training to ensure that misunderstandings and errors, such as those we have seen in the Oprah Winfrey interview, can never recur.
So I’m pleased to hear that there will be an independent inquiry to begin this process, and hope it will be comprehensive - not just investigating the accusations of bullying. I just hope that the law firm chosen to do this will be one recognised for its ethnic diversity. This is so important, because the challenges of racism are a particular risk so far as the Commonwealth is concerned - and the integrity of the Commonwealth is too important to be threatened by dumb questions. Our ability to hold together this wonderful family of nations must not be put at threat. That's why Royal training is so desperately needed.
I was a contemporary of Prince Charles at Trinity College Cambridge: I never met him, but we both shared the same University experience in the late 60s early 70s. I know our generation can change, can put itself in the shoes of other people - but sometimes it takes a conscious change of direction and professional training to get there. So however unattractive that may seem, it is essential. Prince William’s statement that ‘the royal family is very much not racist‘ is a good start: but it's only a start, and much more needs to be done in the Royal household to get it back on track.
Gavin Oldham OBE