Bob Diamond's resignation is a victory for Ed Miliband

Once again, the Labour leader set the political pace.

Bob Diamond's resignation, announced this morning by Barclays, is a significant victory for Ed Miliband. Alone among senior politicians, the Labour leader called for the Barclays chief executive to resign the day after the Libor scandal broke (a call he repeated yesterday), with David Cameron merely stating that he had "serious questions to answer".

"It is not for prime ministers to hire and fire bank chiefs," said Cameron. "He has to make himself accountable to his shareholders and this House. He has some serious questions to answer." As in the case of the phone hacking-scandal (when he called for Rebekah Brooks's resignation and the abandonment of the BSkyB bid) and Stephen Hester's bonus, Miliband set the political pace. Even Vince Cable, who might have been expected to call for Diamond's resignation, suggested that it was up to Barclays shareholders to remove him. But in his resignation statement, it was "external pressure" (Miliband, in other words) that Diamond blamed.

One indicator of how seriously the Barclays boss took the Labour leader's opinion is that he called him last Thursday in an attempt to give his "side of the story" (as Miliband put it). Miliband was initially unsure whether to call for Diamond to go, preferring to focus on the sins of the banking system, rather than one individual, but he eventually resolved that Barclays needed new leadership. At this point, Diamond probably knew that his time was up.

Update: Miliband has responded to Diamond's resignation, stating that it was "necessary and right", while repeating his call for a juidical inquiry into the banks. Here's the statement in full:

This was necessary and right.

It was clear Bob Diamond was not the man to lead the change that Barclays needed.

But this is about more than one man.

This is about the culture and practices of the entire banking system which is why we need an independent, open, judge-led, public inquiry.

Bob Diamond resigned as chief executive of Barclays this morning. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

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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