The banking scandal is too important not to have an independent inquiry

The idea that an inquiry would "shut down" banks is nonsense.

One of the delights of Twitter is that you get to ask the great and the good what the hell they are talking about – and they occasionally answer. So when I asked Bernard Jenkin MP (C, Harwich and North Essex and according to Wikipedia, Parliament’s most famous nudist) why he thought it would be "absolutely bonkers" to hold a Leveson-style inquiry into the banks, he was good enough to reply. Here’s what he said:

Now I don’t want to have a go at Mr Jenkin, who was good enough to bother to reply and anyway it’s hard to get a nuanced argument over in 140 characters. But honestly… The idea that these Masters of the Universe are not so much "too big to fail" but rather "too important to bother" seems a bizarre one to me.

It’s also worth pointing out that newspapers appear to have been able to continue publishing comfortably throughout the Leveson inquiry, despite its all-seeing eye into the murkier depths of the world of journalism. The notion that financial companies generating billions of pounds in annual profits will grind to a halt for the period of an independent inquiry is ludicrous. Perhaps MPs are imagining dealing rooms around the City shutting up shop for the afternoon so they can enjoy the nuanced testimony of the third deputy assistant Governor of the Bank of England. If so, I can assure them that they are quite wrong on this score…

Nor does it seem to me that the "this is urgent, we need answers now" argument is going to fly. We’ve had a quarter of a century since "big bang" (God, they like their space orientated nicknames in the City don’t they?) to try and get our heads around what the hell is going on. The notion that a select group of parliamentarians will get it all sorted in a couple of months given the chance seems again, plain wrong…

Anyway, there’s a quicker way of conducting a parliamentary inquiry. Just ask this man. He seems to have got the answers right most times. He’s even got a plan. He’s just a phone call away…

But to answer Mr Jenkin’s main point - it is precisely because the banks are so important, because so much of our economy hangs on the success of the financial sector, that we need to have absolute faith in it.

The Libor scandal may or may not have been the financial sector’s “Milly Dowler’ moment (which occurred one year ago today) –  but that moment is still going to happen, sometime soon. And just as the real point of the Leveson inquiry is to restore faith in the press, the point of any inquiry into the financial sector is to restore faith in that.

Parliament may well resist the calls for a judicial inquiry this afternoon. But – and here’s an anology that both the space-obsessed City and Britain’s favourite parliamentary nudist can enjoy – they are howling at the moon.

They’d do better to just get on with it.

 

Barclays: can't be blamed on "banking culture". Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.