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Ed Miliband's week: The BBC's sources, the Octonauts and a call from David Cameron

"It’s not the scale of our problems that concerns me so much as the smallness of our politics."

The weekend begins in the customary haze of coffee and drafting notes. There is a crisis of trust in our banks that speaks of a much bigger problem with our economy and we need a speech. My three-year-old son, Daniel, wanders in as I’m making my final preparations for the Fabian conference and claps in the right places (mostly). Encouraged, I finish off my article for the Sunday Mirror in the car and arrive at the conference centre just in time for someone from a BBC comedy programme to try to slap a Post-it note on my back inscribed with the words "Kick me".

Afterwards I head to the opticians with Justine and the boys to choose new glasses. It might not be Legoland but it still counts as an opportunity for Daniel and Sam to create chaos.

Much – perhaps too much – of Sunday is dedicated to Daniel’s latest craze, The Octonauts. Captain Barnacles, Kwazii and Peso understand message discipline better than most. "Explore! Rescue! Protect!" is now hard-wired into my brain.


I make a dawn visit to ITV’s appropriately named Daybreak studios. A fine programme, but whoever invented breakfast television has a lot to answer for. I say Bob Diamond cannot provide the leadership needed to restore trust in banking but am slightly blindsided by a question on Chuka Umunna’s "confession" about having smoked cannabis as a student. Have I done anything illegal? "A few parking tickets" is all my memory can muster.

At noon, I speak at Jack Ashley’s memorial service. An extraordinary life – he left school at 14, found his way to Cambridge University through the union movement and Ruskin College, became an MP, overcame the challenge of deafness and changed Britain for the better. He always took up the unfashionable cause: veterans of nuclear testing; women who had killed their husbands after being abused; thali­domide. Politics needs more Jack Ashleys.


Bob Diamond has resigned, not before time, and our shadow cabinet meeting is dominated by banking. There is a strong sense that this scandal is a big moment and we must rise to it. Afterwards, the Prime Minister calls to discuss the issue. It is important that we can speak privately and try to find ways of building cross-party consensus from time to time. The antics of George Osborne, however, are not filling me with confidence.


At Prime Minister’s Questions, the Tory ben­ches are unusually subdued for the second week running. David Cameron looks irritated and does not want to engage with our offer of a two-stage judicial inquiry into banking. This is a moment when people expect us to stand up for them and change a system that is failing Britain. I go in determined to try to convey the gravity of the situation but the format of PMQs makes that hard. As they say, it’s not the scale of our problems that concerns me so much as the smallness of our politics.

Later, I go to a summer drinks reception organised by the Spectator. I chat to Nick Robinson, political editor of BBC News, about what has gone wrong with the banks and the response of politics. I find myself acknowledging that my father would probably have said this is about a conflict between democracy and capitalism.


The next morning I switch on the radio. Robinson is on the Today programme saying that he has been reliably informed that Ed Miliband sits in his Westminster office musing on how this is now a battle between democracy and capitalism. Now there’s a journalist with good sources.

But it is a visit to a sign-making company in Putney that has the biggest effect on me. Alan Henderson explains how his family business was sold something called an "interest-rate dual-amortising swap product". This was from a bank he had joined 40 years ago and trusted.

His daughter, Jane, says she was asked by the bank’s broker: "Are you ready to trade?" She thought that it was just a loan. But they lost hundreds of thousands of pounds – and half their staff lost their jobs – on a financial bet that still cost them money even after the loan was paid off.

It is the Hendersons’ story, rather than the exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, which will live with me as we try to tackle this banking crisis.

This is a time when we need big change, not the point-scoring of small politics. The banking crisis, like the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal, is a symptom of a much bigger problem to do with the way Britain is run. The organisations involved believed that they were too big to fail or too powerful to be challenged, operating under a system of rules that encouraged fast-buck, take-what-you-can, pre­datory behaviour.


I get the 7.05am train from King’s Cross to my constituency in Doncaster. My first visit is to an RBS call centre – a timely reminder that so many decent people work in the financial services and it is vital that we repair trust in this industry for them as well.

Next on my itinerary is a small-business forum. Gordon Yates, who runs a firm called Sentry Doors, describes how the cost of loans to his firm escalated because it was in the "high-risk" building trade. Now he has cleared his debts, so he can say: "I’m working for me again, not the banks."

Finally, I go to Doncaster Rowing Club, where I meet Finn Eden. I know his family because Finn’s father was killed last year. He has fought back to become a champion rower, recently winning the national under-13 double sculls title. London 2012 has come too early for him, but roll on Rio. I feel immensely proud of him.

This week of all weeks tells me again that Britain needs big change, not small change. The banking crisis shines a light on what has gone wrong with our economy and how we need to change. The decency, integrity and sense of fairness of the British public deserve to be reflected in the way our country is run.


This article first appeared in the 16 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Crisis