Cameron was for a public inquiry into the banks before he was against one

Ed Balls reveals the Tories' past backing for a public inquiry.

After George Osborne's evidence-free assertion that Labour ministers were "clearly involved" in the rate-rigging scandal, Ed Balls has come out fighting. Speaking in the Commons, the shadow chancellor has just revealed that Osborne and David Cameron once supported a public inquiry into banking regulation (something they now oppose).

Here's the November 2008 Tory press release quoted by Balls:

David Cameron has repeated calls for Gordon Brown to hold a public enquiry (sic) into failures in the system of banking regulation.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, David asked Mr. Brown if he agreed with Lord Myners, the Government Minister who this week agreed that a public enquiry (sic) was needed.

David warned that, with unemployment and repossessions on the rise, the public must be told how we came to be in this position and added:

"On the day the American people voted for change, people in Britain will ask how much longer do we have to put up with more of the same from a government that’s failed"

And here's what Osborne had to say on the matter:

The whole point of having a public inquiry is that it must cover the behaviour of everyone responsible: the bankers, the regulators and of course the ministers, past and present.

Because so much public money has been spent rescuing the banks, any inquiry must interview witnesses in public and one of the central witnesses must be the man who was Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years and presided over the age of irresponsibility: Gordon Brown.

Advantage Balls.

Separately, Balls has confirmed that Labour will vote against the government's proposed parliamentary inquiry. Given that Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the Treasury select committee, has indicated that he will not chair an inquiry without cross-party support, one may not take place at all.

In 2008, David Cameron called for a public inquiry "into failures in the system of banking regulation". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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