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

Getty Images.
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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred