Is the banking inquiry now a "total joke"?

Inquiry criticised after outspoken MPs are left off its membership.

The parliamentary inquiry into banking hasn't even begun but it's already being dismissed as a "whitewash". The reason? The two most combative MPs on the Treasury select committee, Labour MP John Mann and Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom, have been left off its membership.

Mann has already responded on Twitter, angrily denouncing the commission as a "total joke" and vowing to set up his own inquiry into the rate-rigging scandal. Here's his statement:

Both Andrea and I were available for the Inquiry and because we are too outspoken we have been blocked

This exposes the Inquiry as a total whitewash with Andrew Tyrie reaching his conclusions in advance of the meetings.

We need to get to the bottom of this scandal and I’m therefore setting up my own inquiry into this dreadful mess.

It was Mann who said of Bob Diamond at last week's hearing: "Either you were complicit in what was going on, or you were grossly negligent, or you were grossly incompetent. That is the only conclusion".

We haven't heard from Leadsom yet, but her 25-year career in the banking sector, including 10 years at Barclays, was widely thought to have made her the most effective inquisitor. In addition, she demonstrated her independent-mindedness earlier this week with her call for George Osborne to apologise to Ed Balls for suggesting that he had "questions to answer" over the Libor scandal. (A fact that some are suggesting may lie behind her absence.)

Those who have made the cut, other than inquiry chair Andrew Tyrie, are Conservative MP Mark Garnier, Labour MPs Pat McFadden and Andy Love, and Lib Dem MP John Thurso, all of whom were reportedly selected on the advice of their parties. They may yet prove an effective line-up (and QCs will question witnesses on the inquiry's behalf) but given their "useless" performance against Diamond (in the words of Leadsom) they begin from a position of weakness. The hand of those who argue that only a judge-led inquiry will do has been considerably strengthened by the exclusion of Leadsom and Mann.

The Canary Wharf headquarters of Barclays Bank. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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