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

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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