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:
— Bernard Jenkin MP (@bernardjenkin) June 30, 2012
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…
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.