For such a mild, nice man, Vince can be really nasty. I can't conceal my admiration. To be rude to Stephen Timms – who is a bit special – takes real temperament. Timms is a cabinet minister but he looks like Herman Munster without the make-up. Or the bolt. Everyone likes him. He brings out a protective instinct in those of us who should know better.
Timms was filling in for the Chancellor who was in Brussels, where he was selling the title deeds to the Treasury buildings to a tax haven expert, or something along those lines. Things we have come to expect.
Anyway, it was a larger financial statement than any of us had witnessed and Vince said it merited the presence of the Prime Minister, let alone the Chancellor. But we didn't have the organ grinder, we didn't even have the organ grinder's monkey, we had the organ grinder's monkey's first assistant. "That's my job!" Stephen Pound yelped indignantly from the PPS bench behind.
Gordon was never going to be there because it was all his fault. Andrew Tyrie put it best. Whatever the Prime Minister's intentions with the Lloyds-HBOS merger, the effect was not to save a weak bank but to destroy a strong one. Stephen Timms said, essentially, it was George Osborne's fault. Or the banks' fault. Or the shareholders'.
The SNP's John Mason pointed out that shareholders may have voted for the merger but they hadn't been told that only a third of the due diligence had been done.
It's a disaster, surely, for the Prime Minister. Without his influence the deal would never have eventuated. And didn't he bully Lloyds into going through with it when it started to become clear that kryptonite was throbbing away in the HBOS vaults?
Who knows? And who would tell us if they did? Timmsy told us that the Government's new position in the banks (to the tune of £3 trillion, by John Redwood's estimate) allowed them to demand compulsory extra lending of £14bn. How did we know the banks would honour that? Oh, monthly reports. That would do the trick. So who would see the reports? The answer delighted us whose souls have been shrivelled by cynicism. No one. Ministers. Parliament would be given a statement in a year's time.
The banks will pull the wool over ministers' eyes, and ministers will pull the wool over Parliament's eyes. We all do what we do best.
Andrew MacKinlay presented the only honest view of the afternoon. He said he couldn't understand what was going on. He asked for Command Papers to be distributed round the MPs. Briefings with facts and numbers and proposals to explain this, the biggest single financial exercise in living memory. Facts! Briefing! He's such a comedian.Reuse content