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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.