Ed Miliband and David Cameron clashed over the need for a full banking inquiry at Prime Minister’s Questions today.
Miliband, having offered the Tory leader the get-out of a two-stage judge-led inquiry – with the Libor scandal dealt with by Christmas, and a deeper inquiry taking place over 2013 – said the PM was “slow to act”, standing up for “the wrong people”, a man whose party is “bankrolled by the banks” and “simply cannot act in the national interest”.
“I do understand his concerns about speed, but there are concerns also that the inquiry that is being talked about is far too narrow, focused solely on the scandal of Libor, when we know the problems go much wider to the culture and practices in the City.
“I believe, however, there is a way forward that we could agree upon, that we have a two-part judge-led inquiry, that’s instructed by Christmas to report on the scandal surrounding Libor, that’s his timetable, and the second part of it looks over 12 months at the much-wider area of the culture and practices with the industry. That satisfies his requirement for speed but also the necessary requirement to look at the wider culture and practices in the City.
“We were in exactly the same position a year ago, when initially he rejected the idea of a judge-led inquiry into the press scandal, and then he re-changed his mind.
“In justifying that decision, he said this:
“I don’t believe there is any better process than an inquiry led by a judge.”
And he went on:
“With the whole thing pursued by a team of barristers who are expert at finding out the facts.”
Why is it right to have this judge-led approach to the scandal in the press, but wrong for the scandal in the banks?…
“I don’t think the prime minister has understood the depth, the depth of public concern, the depth of the lack of confidence there has been. Now he says the inquiry he proposes can be completed within essentially four months, but that it can go as wide as it likes, is simply not realistic. I do say to him that I’ve listened to his concerns, and I’ve proposed a way forward.
“I ask him again, a two-part, a two-part inquiry with a judge completing, on the chancellor’s timetable, by Christmas, on Libor, and then looking at the wider issues, and there are many issues, about the culture and practices of the City….
“I don’t think the prime minister gets it about the depth of public concern. Now, I do hope he will reconsider his position. He mentions the Vickers Inquiry, and he says that they are implementing the Vickers Inquiry.
“I do say this to him, the Vickers Commission said this about a very important issue that has come out in the last two weeks, about the way in which high street banks have sold dodgy products to small businesses, they said that should never be allowed to happen again, but after lobbying by the banks, the government rejected this very basic recommendation of Vickers.
“In light of the recent scandal, with small businesses damaged, will he now u-turn and implement the Vickers recommendations in full…
“If he wants a history lesson, this is what he told the City of London on the 28th of March, 2008:
“As a free-marketeer by conviction, it will not surprise you to hear me say that the problem of the past decade is too much regulation.”
“Doesn’t it say it all about the double-standards of this prime minister. And whenever these scandals happen, he is slow to act and he stands up for the wrong people. The question people are asking is who will act in the national interest rather than the party interest. His is a party bankrolled by the banks. If he fails to order a judge-led inquiry, people will come to one conclusion: he simply can’t act in the national interest.”
In reply, Cameron ended, once again, without answering the big question – throwing in the lamest of jokes for good measure:
“I have to say, I have to say Mr Speaker, everybody can see what is happening here. The party opposite want to talk about absolutely everything apart from their record over 13 years. I have to say, Mr Speaker, we may have found the Higgs-Boson particle, Labour haven’t found a sense of shame.”
The more he prevaricates, the more he looks like him and his party have got something to hide, the more out of touch he looks – the more Labour will be able to paint him as the bankers’ PM, in their pocket, afraid to challenge them, a man of the spivvy few, not the suffering many.