Ed Miliband sought to refocus public anger over the Barclays Libor scandal toward David Cameron and George Osborne over the prime minister’s inaction and his chancellor’s hypocrisy.
Addressing the Fabian Society Summer Conference, he said:
“The prime minister says he’s really not sure we need an inquiry. How out of touch can you get?
“I have news for David Cameron: the people of this country want a moment of reckoning for our banks.
“The British people will not tolerate the establishment closing ranks saying we don’t need an inquiry. They want a light shone into every dark corner of our banking system. They want bankers held to account. They want the system rebuilt.
“Nothing less than a full public inquiry can do that. Sticking plaster solutions will not heal this wound. And nobody has confidence that the current plans of this government or the industry will be sufficient.”
Cameron’s lack of noticeable anger at the scandal, his sticking by Bob Diamond and failing to call for him to get the sack, playing good cop nicey-nicey with the spivs in what his business secretary Vince Cable calls the “massive cesspit” of the City, stands at odds with Miliband’s genuine disgust at the despicableness of those exposed as crooked; as for Osborne, his eagerness for Labour to deregulate further when in office surely renders meaningless any faux concern he may now have.
In his speech, the Labour leader went on to compare the current scandal to that of phone hacking, treating with disdain the idea it was just a few bad apples:
“The easy thing in this debate is simply to say this is the fault of a few junior traders. Just rogue individuals in our banks, who were bad people, looking after themselves.
“I think we’ve heard this before. One rogue reporter. Exactly what Rupert Murdoch’s News International said about phone hacking.
“It is as absurd to believe that one rogue reporter was responsible for phone-hacking on a grand scale as to believe what we have seen in our banks is just the responsibility of a few bad bankers.
“A trader asks a colleague to fraudulently fiddle the figures, saying if not “I’m a dead man”. And when the fraud occurs says ‘Dude I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger!’
“Do we really believe this is about one rogue trader? How can we believe this when we have so many other examples of reckless behaviour?”
Earlier, in an interview with today’s Times (£), Miliband said the “corrupt elite” in Britain’s banks must be brought to book with tougher rules and jail terms as part of a national reckoning with the City, accusing the banking system of being “institutionally corrupt” and announcing proposals for a 12-month public inquiry into the abuses rocking some of the high street’s most-trusted names.
He told (£) the paper:
“What has happened at Barclays is the unacceptable face of capitalism. It goes much beyond individuals.
“There hasn’t been a proper reckoning for what happened in the banking crisis. The bankers told us, ‘it’s all fine, we’ve cleaned everything up’, and I’m afraid that just doesn’t hold water any more.”
He also said Labour “didn’t regulate enough” and the light-touch regulation regime “was not right”, echoing shadow chancellor Ed Balls’s comments last night that “in retrospect we weren’t tough enough”.
“I don’t think it’s right for government ministers or for the governor actually to say we’ve had enough enquiries…
“Why is there a culture where people in quite senior positions seem to think they can get away with rigging markets and acting in a duplicitous way?
“These calls we’re seeing today for a proper, independent arms-length inquiry which looks at the future, and can we get things onto a more open, honest footing, but also looks at the self-regualtion of the 1980s and 90s, the way in which the FSA regulated in the last decade, I think there is now a case, because if not, we can’t just brush this under the carpet, people are shocked by the swaggering arrogance of what we’ve discovered in the last 24 hours and I think we really need to open this wide open…
“What we did in government, was we moved from the old self regulation of the past in many areas to proper legal regulation, the FSA were the legal regulators, I’ve said many times in retrospect we weren’t tough enough but actually all the time when we were doing this job of regulating we were attacked continually by the City, by banks, by Conservative shadow ministers for being too tough, and too heavy-handed.”