Barclays scandal: heads must roll but no ‘full inquiry’

You’ve got to hand it to Britain’s banks. Their reputation was already in the gutter. But they’ve made us hate them even more this week with another series of scandals – and not a single chief executive has resigned.

The Barclays LIBOR rate fixing scandal prompted the most outrage, yet the bank’s amazingly over-rewarded boss Bob Diamond refused to resign. (Small wonder, given the king’s ransom he receives for running the company. Honour is no longer a currency that top bankers understand.)

Labour leader Ed Milliband quickly called for an inquiry into the scandal. We don’t need an inquiry – just fundamental action to drain the poison from the banking industry. This is an industry that has the dubious record of 25 years of misselling scandals (endowments, pension transfers, precipice bonds, PPI to name just four), not to mention the catastrophic mistakes that led to the credit crunch and the collapse of RBS, HBOS and others. It is shameful that Bank of England governor Mervyn King has just noticed this week that there’s something wrong with the culture of Britain’s banks.

One other point. Ed Milliband called for a ‘full inquiry’. No politician ever calls for a limited inquiry. Inquiry is one of those words that is rarely seen out on its own. Other examples include suburb (always ‘leafy’) and families (inevitably ‘hard-working’, especially the toddlers.)

UPDATE: it looks like Barclays chairman Marcus Agius will resign. Don’t cheer until it’s confirmed – and he says he won’t take a penny in ‘compensation’.

Britain moves left: Labour wins as voters punish coalition

Labour was the clear winner in yesterday’s local elections in England and Wales – and shared the spoils with the SNP in Scotland. Voters punished the coalition, whose performance this year has been abject. (Economy back in recession; a budget that took money from pensioners and gave it to the rich; three hour queues at Heathrow; the list goes on…)

It’s easy to explain away Labour’s good showing as the classic opposition gain from a government’s mid-term blues. But the Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats would be unwise to assume they’ll bounce back in the polls as the next general election nears. Spending cuts and state job costs have barely started.

The Liberal Democrats are in the bleakest position. As I wrote on the original Ertblog early in 2011, they have played their hand disastrously in government:

Above all, the Lib Dem leaders seem far too comfortable in their ministerial limos and offices, and far too little concerned about the catastrophic rush to slash and burn public services.

The happiest man in British politics tonight must be Ed Milliband (with Alex Salmond a close second). He’s faced constant criticism and sniping since beating his brother David in 2010’s leadership election. Praise for his stand against the Murdoch empire last year faded. But in recent months his fortunes are reviving. David Cameron is looking more like John Major at his most beleaguered than Tony Blair in his pomp. There’s no guarantee chat Milliband will be Britain’s next prime minister. But the idea no longer seems outlandish.