When Ed Miliband gave his speech to Labour’s autumn conference last year, he rather tied himself in knots about how to end predatory capitalism. The Labour leader was trying to make it clear that he would stand up to vested interests, but the message was lost under a row about whether he was pro- or anti-business.
Today Miliband managed to put that speech into context a little more, by announcing Labour’s plans to change the culture of banking in this country. Instead of predator banks, he wants ‘stewardship banking’, which builds ‘a long-term, trusted relationship with their customer’ and serves the real economy as well as the industry itself. The proposals include the creation of a British Medical Association-style code of conduct for bankers, a dedicated banking unit at the Serious Fraud Office, and two new ‘challenger’ banks to increase competition and standards in the industry.
Matt Hancock was quick as ever to respond to this by arguing that the Labour party was ‘behind the curve’ on the subject of banking reform. He told Sky News: ‘An awful lot went wrong on their watch – his Shadow Chancellor was City Minister at the time.’
The key challenge for Ed Miliband is to move the debate on from the past. His speech today reminded me rather of the children’s books by Susan Coolidge called What Katy Did, and What Katy Did Next, which are about a rather stubborn girl who makes plenty of mistakes in What Katy Did, but has grown up into a wise young woman in What Katy Did Next. What Labour Did Next needs to be about Labour’s new wisdom on banking, rather than just an apology for What Labour Did when it was in Government. So the example of the Henderson family that he used in his speech, who were mis-sold a financial product and nearly lost their business as a result, was an acknowledgement of what happened under the previous Labour Government.
‘Stewardship banking’ suggests Miliband has realised that the best way to start the sequel to What Labour Did is to provide a series of policy announcements rather than issuing mea culpas or trying to point fingers at the current government (although his speech today took shots at the way ministers are ‘watering down’ the Vickers recommendations). This means that when a minister bellows across the Chamber that it was Labour that messed up the banks, those on the Labour benches at least have something concrete to bellow back about.Tags: Banks, Ed Miliband, Labour, UK politics