I appeared on Question Time on 28th June. You can view a clip of this here
The show came from Luton and my fellow panellists were Paddy (now Baron) Ashdown, former LibDem leader; Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Transport; Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minster for the Olympics; and Tony Robinson aka Baldrick.
The timing of the show was fortuitous insofar as the Barclays LIBOR fixing scandal broke overnight so the main questions discussed were:
1. LIBOR and whether the banks had any integrity left
For the record, my views were that the banks do not have any integrity left and that criminal proceedings should be instituted against those who had manipulated LIBOR. I refuse to accept that the absence of a specific criminal sanction for this particular area of activity under the regulatory regime means that they cannot be prosecuted. It reminds me of the legislation which was passed against knife crime - was this really necessary - it was already illegal to stab people? The main problem was not the lack of an applicable law just a lack of enforcement. The same can probably be said here. Surely prosecutions can be brought under the terms of the 1968 Theft Act Section 16 - “Obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception”. As I said, it’s rather galling that individuals get sent to jail for mortgage fraud but allegedly no one can be tried for rigging the interest rate on which some of those mortgages were based.
I also stick by my assertion that notwithstanding these scandals there are many perfectly decent people working in banks retail operations, processing our cheques, standing orders and direct debits, and dealing with deposits and loans. Ironically, they have been neglected in recent decades, which is partly why the service they provide has often faltered, as their investment banking colleagues have secured all the glory and bonuses but are now being tarred with the same brush.
I was disappointed that Justine Greening stuck to the party line about separating retail from investment banking. Surely this latest scandal makes that unarguable.
By the way, for the information of some of the Tweeters who railed against me as a banker, I’m not. For a certain section of the populace anyone in a suit can be stigmatised as a banker. Apart from displaying sheer ignorance, I suppose this saves them thinking about the actual arguments being put forward.
2. The government’s U turn on the fuel tax increase and whether this was sensible in the light of the need to cut the budget deficit
I said I thought this was mad in light of the need to effect a reduction in the budget deficit. I also suspect that high fuel prices are a greater contribution to road safety than any number of speed cameras and bumps and to getting greater fuel efficiency and limiting environmental damage as people are driving smaller cars, more diesels and driving more slowly.
3. Welfare- whether it was reasonable that some people were barely better off working than they would be on benefits
I felt great sympathy for the woman who asked this question. She clearly seemed to be the sort who would continue to work even if she could get the same amount on benefits. The fact is that government spending will have to be cut and it cannot be cut significantly without reducing the amounts spent on welfare as it is such a large part of the total.
4. House of Lords reform
My view was simply that the only reform that is necessary is the abolition of the House of Lords as it is an anachronism. There seemed to be a view amongst the politicians that there has to be a second chamber as a check and balance on the House of Commons. How this can work given that ultimately under the terms of the Parliament Act the Commons can force legislation through the Lords is a little beyond me. I found Baron Ashdown’s (note a member of the House of Lords) assertion that if the Lords had been reformed to make most of it elected, there would have been no war in Iraq an example of the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. It is about as credible as the view recently expressed to me by someone who is trying to set up an investment fund that would have done well when the market fell in 2008 as he would have been short. And I find I can pick winners of horse races when I have already seen the results.