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The corridors of power...

Labour has delegated its response to Enron and the swirling crisis in audit and corporate governance to three wise women, trade secretary Patricia Hewitt, trade minister Melanie Johnson and the Treasury economic secretary Ruth Kelly.

Except for Pat Hewitt they lack business experience but at present that could be advantageous.

By accident the three have been entrusted with something a lot bigger than the detail of the Higgs report on non-executive directors or Office of Fair Trading investigations of the Big Four or the rotation of auditors.

In their hands they have control over Labour’s emerging political identity, its ideological definition.

Since Enron broke, Blair has not made one of his trademark assaults on regulation and market restraints, the kind of sermon he preaches to European leaders at summits. Gordon Brown, too, has had less to say about the beauties of American capitalism.

There is a political opportunity here, certainly for Hewitt – who has shown she is capable of thinking broadly about where Labour is heading – after all she was one of the key early modernisers under Neil Kinnock in the late 1980s. Kelly, too, can think strategically about government and markets. The question is, will they?

The word, so far, is judge us by actions. This is partly a realistic recognition that no one knows how long it will be before financial stability returns. A key phrase for Hewitt is ‘under review’ relating to the statutory regulation of the accountancy profession. The interim report on accounting and auditing is well named from a political point of view.

But temporising is also a sign of political reticence. Blair is not renowned for his theorising and key aides such as Andrew Adonis are heavily into practical policy.

Over to the three sisters.

  • David Walker write for The Guardian.

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