Political sketch: Pinning down a squirming survivor

Diamond keeps playing dumb.

Bob Diamond took time off from signing on yesterday to stick as many fingers as possible up to those who had put him on the dole - except he didn’t.

The unacceptable face of capitalism (July 2012 version) had them queueing in the aisles for a seat at the anticipated outing of politicians, regulators and anyone else who played a part in his decision to quit as Barclays chief executive 12 hours after announcing he was staying.

But imagine, if you can, a damp squib in a bucket of water at the bottom of Lake Windermere to get the full idea of the revelations that emerged.

We did learn that Bob loved Barclays, that there had been wrong-doing and he had been “physically sick” when he learned about it - but it was nothing to do with him.

In fact after two and a half hours in front of the Treasury Select Committee you were not even sure if Bob knew where the bad Barclays was, and it was clearly nowhere near the good Barclays he ran.

By then even the MPs had worked out that Bob, hoping for a £20m pay-off to ease his way into unemployment (to add to the £100m apparently already banked in the last six years), thought that omerta was the best way of getting his hands on the loot.

In the best case yet for a judge-led inquiry into the banking scandal, MPs on the committee were generally hopeless at pinning down the squirming survivor.

Chairman Andrew Tyrie tried to make a fist of it with opening questions about who in Whitehall had backed Barclay’s decision to fiddle the inter-bank lending rate but it was clear from the off that the much-trailed naming of the guilty men - or women - was not going to happen.

Why so many thought that Bob was going to come clean when he has ambitions to stay in the business is suprising and despite Tyrie’s open invitation he declined.

This reluctance was judged to be mere shyness by Tory Michael Fallon who, having declared an interest as the deputy chairman of a city firm, then failed to declare an even greater interest as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.

Shocked by Bob’s failure to dish the dirt, Fallon cut to the chase and asked if former Brown Minister Shriti Vadera had poked her nose into the Libor affair.

In effect, the Brown Government was trying to get you to fiddle the figures, he said desperately to a now Sphinx-like Bob.

Off he went again with a list of miscommunications, misunderstandings, reprehensibles and handful of unfortunates as he adopted the tactic of answering the question not asked.

Did he live in a parallel universe? asked one MP after an hour when you weren’t even certain Bob was in the country, never mind the office, when the fiddling was going on.

The man invited by the Today programme to lecture on ethics did not even blush when he was reminded how he had trotted out similar sentiments when he called for an end to banker-bashing during his last appearance.

The sudden appearance of Leveson inquisitor Robert Jay could only be wished for as the MPs tried and failed to get him to abandon the 5th amendment.

And it took the appearance of the Bassetlaw basher John Mann to get down and dirty about the life and times of Bob Diamond.

Having accused him of being either “grossly negligent" or “grossly incompetent,” the hero of Pastygate demanded Bob hand over any shares and bonuses he was now in line for.

Having had plenty of time to practice this answer on MPs who had earlier inquired more politely, Bob said this was a matter for the board.

And that was that.

Earlier it had been reported that Bob’s daughter had sent the following tweet: “George Osborne and Ed Miliband you can go ahead and HMD.” Check it out on Google. Bet her dad agrees.

Bob Diamond. Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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