The chicklet likes to watch the news. It’s one of his deft tactics to avoid the start of the long, and ever so slow, march to bedtime.
He was transfixed watching the scenes from the House of Commons on Channel 4 on Thursday, as Osborne and Balls slugged it out over the Libor-Barclays scandal. As they exchanged verbal jabs and hooks, they were by turns spurred on and jeered at by the braying mobs sitting behind and opposite them. The chicklet was agog.
I sought his opinion. “Like kids. Actually, worse than kids. Much worse than anything we’d be allowed to do in the playground. They made a lot of noise, it scared me a bit. What was it about?”
Where to start?
Another banking scandal – the mother of all banking scandals – has at last achieved what none of the other outrages of the last five years could manage. An inquiry will be held into the state, culture and practices of the industry and all that remained to be determined was the type: the Eton toffs wanted a parliamentary one, the opportunists opposite demanded a judicial one. At the start of the week, the Conservatives decided that offence was the best defence to any claims that their world was too closely entwined with the banks, claims which had been made in several Sunday papers.
To divert attention from them not wanting to do anything much, they focused attention on the previous Labour government. Briefings culminated in Osborne giving a J’accuse interview to the Spectator. Ed Balls, the current Shadow Chancellor who was a pivotal member of Labour’s Treasury team, was the man in their sights, requiring him to find a way off the ropes. The result was the unedifying scenes in the UK Parliament on Thursday.
Both protagonists should be ashamed of themselves: they would be, if they had a shred of decency between them. This issue, one which yet again has found our financial institutions wanting, where the greed of a few threatens – continuously – the well-being of the many, should be a sober topic requiring our politicians’ fullest attention. Yet, these boys treated it like a game: if they could have used conkers, they would.
What the main UK political parties have forgotten is that this is not about them, but about us. None of us cares anymore who is to blame for the mess we are in. We all know that both are culpable: neither party seriously questioned the wisdom of removing the regulatory framework at the turn of the century, nor have they seriously suggested clamping down since. Promises from the banks and their advocates to behave better when they came down off the naughty step have proven shallow.
Still, they – and their pals in Parliament – resist the need for greater regulation. At the same time as the Tories were doing the rounds dissing Ed Balls, familiar calls were being made on the back of LIBOR and interest rate swap mis-selling not to rush to temper the excesses of the banks, on the now spurious grounds of turning away the talent and turning off the profit. Osborne himself has been at it this weekend, preparing to “fight for bankers’ bonuses in Europe” (the European Parliament votes on bonus-curbing measures this week). Hasn’t he had enough of the bare-knuckle stuff, for we certainly have?
MEPs – somewhat bizarrely – appear to be more in touch with the mood of the people(s). If limiting bonuses results in higher wage costs and removes some of the gamblers from European markets altogether, so be it. Yet, the bankers have mounted a ferocious rearguard action, and even if the Parliament votes for the move, it is unlikely to be ratified by all member states. The UK will be at the front of that queue.
If we needed reminding of Labour’s unreadiness to govern, their willingness to fold on the type of inquiry provided it. Bob Diamond’s outing before the Treasury Select committee showed just how useless and pointless an exercise this is going to be. Politicians might spend much of their career applying spin and gloss but when it comes to telling porkies with a straight face and trembling voice, no one can compete with bankers. Lying to Parliament holds no fear, only lying to judges might.
Today, Ed Miliband is trailing a speech setting out his strategy for putting the banks in order. Break them up and simplify it all hardly amounts to a Nobel prize winning approach and it’s all a little, well too little, too late. These are things his own government could have set in train before it was shown the door and they are changes already much called for by the Lib Dems. Where was Ed when Vince Cable was looking for political support for similar? A potent Labour leader would have ignored partisan politics on the basis that this is a crisis that needs sorting, one we are all in together and which we must all work together to fix. Backing Vince Cable would have been seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.
No, this is about posturing and gesturing in the run up to the next General Election: Miliband’s interview is in the Mail on Sunday which speaks volumes. In truth, none of them actually wants to take responsibility for doing anything about it. The banks reign over all of us and politicians and parties – still – are in thrall to them. Consequently, they fiddle, we burn.
And here in Scotland, does any of it matter? As McKenna suggests, as long as the current state of things continue, “the SNP doesn’t need a strategy for independence“.
He is half right.
The do nothing and letting it all play out tactics seem attractive. But like the chicklet, many of us were wondering what this week’s playground antics in Westminster were all about. Some of us need it spelled out and reminded – regularly – that this is them, not us. And that we can do something different if we take charge of our own affairs.
Which would require resolution of the tensions in a referendum strategy aiming to persuade the populace that independence means we won’t have to change much and can also keep our British culture. It might also require setting out different how. All of which requires another blogpost to explore.