David Cameron tried to distance the Tories from "irresponsible" City bankers yesterday, saying they should be banned from operating and face prosecution. He moved to head off a new attempt by Labour to play the "class card" against the Tories by associating them with the bankers blamed for sparking the financial crisis.
Although Labour's "class war" campaign in May's Crewe and Nantwich by-election backfired, some senior Labour figures believe portraying the Tories as the "party of the rich" could pay dividends after the financial meltdown. Privately, some Tories feel they are vulnerable to such attacks, especially as many voters believe the banks are to blame.
Mr Cameron called for a full-scale inquiry into the causes of the crisis, saying the authorities in Britain were less active than their counterparts in the United States, where large financial institutions are being investigated. He said there was a lack of will in Britain "at the highest level" to see justice done. He accused Gordon Brown of "a failure of moral leadership" and also blamed the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
"We all know there was poor decision-making and some reckless activity in the City of London," he said. "But we do not know if there was wrongdoing and the nature of any wrongdoing, because we haven't examined the issue thoroughly the way the Americans are doing."
The Tory leader said in a speech at Canary Wharf that there could not be "one law for the rich and another for everyone else." He added: "If we are going to build a strong and fair society, individuals must carry the consequences of their own actions, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and what their background is."
He said that more than a million people who work in the financial services industry had had their names blackened by the crisis. "It's in their interests too that we make sure we root out any wrongdoing that may have happened, whoever is involved, however high or well-connected they may be," he added.
Seeking to bury the Tories' image as the party of unbridled capitalism, he said: "Justice is effective only when it is seen to be done, for the thug locked up for mugging people on the streets to the highest executive in the biggest firm who's been swindling the books. Doctors who behave irresponsibly get struck off. Bankers who behave irresponsibly should face professional consequences. And for sure, if anyone is found to have behaved criminally they must be prosecuted. Of course, this requires clear evidence of wrongdoing. But that doesn't mean we should sit on our hands and say it's all a failure of regulation."
Mr Cameron said it was vital for investigations to be pursued vigorously to send a message that the crisis could not happen again, and restore the reputation of the City of London. Rejecting Mr Brown's claim that the Tories would "do nothing" to help people through the recession, Mr Cameron called again for a £50bn loan guarantee scheme for business. He said voters faced a choice not between "action and inaction" but between "the wrong sort of action and the right sort of action".
Downing Street said anyone with evidence of inappropriate or criminal behaviour should bring it to the authorities. Ian Pearson, a Treasury minister, said: "The Government takes all forms of crime seriously, including financial crime. This is building on a framework which the Tories opposed, and which gave the FSA legal powers to tackle financial crime and investment fraud, insider dealing and market abuse."Reuse content