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5 July 2012

Miliband’s call for a judge-led inquiry gathers strength

MPs' failure to land a blow on Bob Diamond has bolstered the case for a full inquiry.

By George Eaton

It was Lib Dem MP John Thurso’s comparison of Bob Diamond with Geoffrey Boycott (“You have been occupying the crease for two and a half hours and I am not sure we are any further forward”) that was the defining moment of yesterday’s select committee hearing. Put simply, the bowlers weren’t up to the job. Their ineptitude exemplified precisely why we need a judge-led inquiry into the Libor scandal.

The Commons will vote today on whether to hold a parliamentary inquiry (the government’s preferred option) or a judicial inquiry (Labour’s preferred option), with the coalition’s sizeable majority almost certain to ensure that MPs back the former. Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury select committee, has indicated that he will refuse to preside over an inquiry that does not enjoy cross-party support, but today’s Financial Times reports that George Osborne, on this occasion, has prepared a plan B. Should Tyrie refuse to chair the inquiry, John McFall, the former Labour chair of the committee, will be asked to lead it instead. McFall will only accept the post with Miliband’s blessing, but the offer of a Labour chair will make it harder for Miliband to withhold his support.

Yet George Osborne’s evidence-free assertion that Labour ministers were “clearly involved” in the rate-rigging scandal means that consensus could prove elusive. It’s worth noting that Miliband isn’t the only one banging the drum for a judicial inquiry. The Daily Mail, one of the few papers with the capacity to shift government policy, reaffirms the case for “a proper judge-led public inquiry” in its editorial column today. Indeed, the paper seconds Miliband’s proposal of a swift inquiry into the Libor scandal (to report by Christmas), followed by a second year-long inquiry into the wider “culture and practices” of the City of London.

As I suggested yesterday, the unending argument over which party called for the least regulation, matters less than who is seen to have the right policy now. One of Cameron’s biggest problems is that he leads a party that voters see as far too close to the banks (a party “bankrolled by the banks”, in Miliband’s words) and other vested interests. It is one that his opposition to a judge-led inquiry (backed by 75 per cent of voters, according to YouGov) will only increase.

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