Miliband's call for a judge-led inquiry gathers strength

MPs' failure to land a blow on Bob Diamond has bolstered the case for a full inquiry.

It was Lib Dem MP John Thurso's comparison of Bob Diamond with Geoffrey Boycott ("You have been occupying the crease for two and a half hours and I am not sure we are any further forward") that was the defining moment of yesterday's select committee hearing. Put simply, the bowlers weren't up to the job. Their ineptitude exemplified precisely why we need a judge-led inquiry into the Libor scandal.

The Commons will vote today on whether to hold a parliamentary inquiry (the government's preferred option) or a judicial inquiry (Labour's preferred option), with the coalition's sizeable majority almost certain to ensure that MPs back the former. Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury select committee, has indicated that he will refuse to preside over an inquiry that does not enjoy cross-party support, but today's Financial Times reports that George Osborne, on this occasion, has prepared a plan B. Should Tyrie refuse to chair the inquiry, John McFall, the former Labour chair of the committee, will be asked to lead it instead. McFall will only accept the post with Miliband's blessing, but the offer of a Labour chair will make it harder for Miliband to withhold his support.

Yet George Osborne's evidence-free assertion that Labour ministers were "clearly involved" in the rate-rigging scandal means that consensus could prove elusive. It's worth noting that Miliband isn't the only one banging the drum for a judicial inquiry. The Daily Mail, one of the few papers with the capacity to shift government policy, reaffirms the case for "a proper judge-led public inquiry" in its editorial column today. Indeed, the paper seconds Miliband's proposal of a swift inquiry into the Libor scandal (to report by Christmas), followed by a second year-long inquiry into the wider "culture and practices" of the City of London.

As I suggested yesterday, the unending argument over which party called for the least regulation, matters less than who is seen to have the right policy now. One of Cameron's biggest problems is that he leads a party that voters see as far too close to the banks (a party "bankrolled by the banks", in Miliband's words) and other vested interests. It is one that his opposition to a judge-led inquiry (backed by 75 per cent of voters, according to YouGov) will only increase.

Former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond leaves Portcullis House after appearing before the Treasury Select Committee. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.