Miscellaneous / Politics

Calling all cliches: Naming and shaming

This week Amber Rudd, the home secretary, attracted a great deal of attention and even some disapproval with her conference speech:

She revealed that companies could be forced to publish the proportion of ‘international’ staff on their books in a move which would effectively ‘name and shame’ businesses which are failing to take on British workers. [1]

It’s a popular business, this naming and shaming. Politicians like proposing it, so long as it’s in relation to other people. But who started the fad?

The earliest reference we can find is from exactly twenty years, at another Conservative Party conference, with another home secretary, Michael Howard. He always liked to come up with some raw red meat for his conference speech, and in 1996 he proposed

a scheme to ‘name and shame’ young offenders by giving courts the power to remove the automatic anonymity for under-18s. The initiative would be designed to humiliate tearaways and thugs and shame their parents into taking more responsibility. [2]

Not everyone, it should be added, was best pleased with Howard’s idea. Apart from the usual penal reform groups and the like, there were even some in his own party who objected. Gary Streeter, then a minister in the Lord Chancellor’s department (now a backbench MP), complained in writing to the prime minister that the proposal would ‘land the courts with an unforeseen £4 million bill’, and that ‘this is not the first time Mr Howard has announced headline-catching initiatives without having sorted out how they will be paid for.’ [3]

Meanwhile a couple of former Conservative home secretaries, Douglas Hurd and Kenneth Baker, let it be known that they didn’t approve either, seeing Howard’s move as cynical politics, an attempt to outflank Tony Blair’s Labour Party on issues of law and order. [4]

Once the phrase was in the public domain, other politicians were keen to pick it up. And the first to do so were those in the front rank of the New Labour government, for whom it had immense appeal, fitting in with their deep and abiding love of targets:

[Chancellor Gordon] Brown will threaten to ‘name and shame’ the [pension] companies unless they convince him within weeks that they will recompense the victims of the mis-sold pensions scandal between 1989 and 1992. [5]

David Blunkett, the secretary of state for education, wants to contrast the Conservatives’ failure to deal with bad schools with Labour’s refusal to tolerate them … Teaching unions attacked the decision to ‘name and shame’ schools where the morale of teachers and pupils is already low. [6]

Tony Blair is launching a crusade to boost employment in the EU. He wants other countries to follow Britain’s lead in slashing curbs on business. And at a Luxembourg jobs summit tomorrow, he will threaten to ‘name and shame’ any members that fail. [7]

It started with a home secretary, and it’s proved particularly popular with his successors. Here’s an example from each of those who served in the post after Howard:

The measures announced by Mr [Jack] Straw implement legislation introduced by the previous government … Courts will be given discretionary powers to ‘name and shame’ juvenile offenders. [8]

 [David] Blunkett proposes a new standards unit for the police. This will use reports from the Inspectorate of Constabulary to name and shame forces and individual police stations failing to meet local or national targets. [9]

Charles Clarke today pledges a publicity blitz to name and shame yobs who hold decent communities to ransom. From now on louts handed Asbos will have their names, details and mugshots published in their neighbourhoods and local media so they can no longer hide under the cloak of anonymity. [10]

After being forced on to the defensive by a series of home office blunders over prisoners and immigration, Mr [John] Reid sought to regain the initiative by backing a tabloid newspaper campaign to name and shame child sex offenders. In a significant change of government attitude towards identifying paedophiles, he said his starting point was that such information ‘should no longer remain the exclusive preserve of officialdom’. [11]

Police forces intending to ‘name and shame’ criminals on the internet have been told not to if it was likely to upset the offender’s family or breach their human rights … The government had promised to name and shame criminals locally as part of its Justice Seen, Justice Done campaign, and the measure has been strongly promoted by Alan Johnson. [12]

[Jacqui] Smith announced proposals to ‘name and shame’ kerb crawlers in a crackdown on prostitution. [13]

Theresa May will today unveil plans for the public to formally name and shame police officers who ignore complaints about louts. [14]

Our congratulations, therefore, to Amber Rudd for upholding this fine old British tradition, which allows home secretaries to sound tough without actually doing anything.


[1] Daily Telegraph 5 October 2016

[2] Independent 8 October 2016

[3] Guardian 16 October 1996

[4] Independent 5 November 1996

[5] Sunday Times 11 May 1997

[6] Independent 21 May 1997

[7] Sun 20 November 1997

[8] Times 31 July 1997

[9] Sunday Times 10 June 2001

[10] Daily Mirror 2 March 2005

[11] Daily Telegraph 19 June 2006

[12] Daily Telegraph 3 December 2009

[13] Times 20 November 2008

[14] Express 5 October 2010


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