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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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.