How many independent inquiries has Labour called for?

Why Miliband's call for an inquiry into the Jimmy Savile affair felt so familiar.

Just as he argued that Rebekah Brooks could not lead an inquiry into herself, so Ed Miliband has declared that the BBC cannot investigate itself over the Jimmy Savile affair. He told ITV News last night:

To do right by the victims, I don't think the BBC can lead their own inquiry... I think we need a broader look at these public institutions - the BBC, I'm afraid some parts of the NHS, potentially, Broadmoor.

I'm open-minded about how it's done but it's got to be independent ... I'm a great supporter of the BBC but I don't think you can have the BBC board sort of leading its own inquiry.

Labour's default response to scandal is, increasingly, to demand an independent inquiry, so I've compiled a list of some of its most recent calls. Whether or not the below reflects an unusual preponderance of scandals or a lack of imagination on Labour's part, I'll let you decide.

West Coast Mainline

It is vital that we get to the bottom of the role of Ministers and who knew what when. It is scandalous that the review of what has been a huge failure of government is to be conducted by a senior figure from within the Department for Transport. We need a truly independent inquiry led by a figure unconnected to the DfT examining the role of officials from top to bottom, including ministers. There must be no scapegoating.

Maria Eagle, 5 October 2012

GCSE English papers

Whilst the Education Secretary Michael Gove says he is ‘saddened’ by the injustice that has been served to thousands of pupils, he is showing how out-of-touch he is with pupil opinion by refusing to take action. Labour supports calls for an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of this mess.

Stephen Twigg, 7 September 2012

The banks

We've got to have an open, independent inquiry with hearings to find out what is going on in the dark corners of the banks.

Ed Miliband, 30 June 2012

PIP breast implants

These women have had their lives turned upside down by this scandal but have rallied together to, in my view, articulate a convincing case for a public inquiry to take place in Scotland.

Jackie Baillie, 14 June 2012


With new allegations of cash for access emerging on a daily basis it is vital that David Cameron comes clean about the full scale and nature of his many meetings with wealthy donors. He needs to establish an independent inquiry immediately so people can have confidence that this matter will be resolved.

Jon Trickett, 1 April 2012

The riots

That is why I do say again to the Prime Minister: You must now agree to this commission of inquiry, you must agree to the national conversation that we need. Only by doing that can we properly serve the victims of what happened.

Ed Miliband, 13 August 2011

Care home abuse

There must be an independent investigation into what happened and what lessons need to be learned and the government should announce it straight away.

Ed Miliband, 7 June 2011

The press (successful)

It is not about government imposing this on the press, but I think the review needs to have some independence, both from government and from those involved in the day-to-day running of newspapers.

Ed Miliband, 19 April 2011

Labour leader Ed Miliband with deputy leader Harriet Harman at the party's conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.