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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Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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