4 Jul 2012

Bob Diamond, good manners and puking

Bob Diamond seems to have just told the Treasury Committee that the actions of Barclays staff fixing Libor rates “actually made me physically ill.” Is he actually saying he puked?

The suggestion is that this emetic episode happened when he first saw the FSA report, days before it was published. Maybe he was just being figurative but perhaps future reports should come with an easy- wipe surface.

Bob Diamond didn’t seem troubled by Tory MPs’ questioning in the first hour and wouldn’t help Michael Fallon in his efforts to pin him down on who in Whitehall was putting pressure on the Bank of England over Libor rates.

Ministers or officials? Bob Diamond seemed to say both at one point or another but when pressed said he wasn’t sure.

Mr Diamond repeatedly uses MPs’ first names – not just ones he has worked with like Jesse Norman but people he doesn’t know at all. He’s been a model of courtesy, occasionally annoying the committee with his digressions.

I suspect Ed Miliband and his team will be watching this session thinking it hasn’t produced much fruit if any and hasn’t exactly proved the power of parliamentary inquiries.

George Mudie MP, whose wife is a head teacher, dealt with Bob Diamond rather like a head teacher might. What kind of a company were you running if nobody bothered telling the management what was going on? What kind of culture was there in the banks that meant this sort of stuff could be going on?

Diamond would begin to mutter his responses before Mudie piled in (albeit rather headmasterly) again. Echoes there of the Tom Watson questions to the Murdochs in the Culture Committee’s investigations into phone hacking.

Bob Diamond said the “culture of Barclays” was so good that they were first to come forward and admit what was going on. George Mudie said that “doesn’t wash” and managers were “too frightened or self-interested” to tell senior managers what they were up to. Andrea Ledsom went on the culture line forcefully as well.

Small footnote on the politics away from this saga: The SNP is not missing this opportunity to go for Alistair Darling, front-man for the “Better Together” anti-independence campaign. Every day, Scots journalists report being bombarded with comments like John Swinney’s from last week saying that “Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s catastrophic regulatory failures are the co-author of the banking crisis and this latest scandal.”

Alistair Darling was very much David Cameron’s choice to head the campaign. George Osborne, bizarre as it might seem, has played a key role in shaping the government’s approach to the referendum too. They may be inerested to see that the “Yes” campaign thinks the banking saga can damage Mr Darling.

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