So what did George Osborne tell The Spectator? The words he used to James Forsyth became the centre of a Question Time bust up last night and one that had to be broken up by a Sex Pistol.
Let’s start with Ed Balls’ version. He told the Commons that Osborne impugned his integrity by accusing him of being personally involved in the Libor scandal. Untrue: Osborne had said that those around Brown were involved in Libor. Balls, he said, had questions to answer. He drew a clear a distinction, and James made this clear in the piece. On Question Time, Alan Johnson tried to play the same trick. His bust-up with Spectator contributor Louise Mensch went as follows…
AJ: George Osborne told The Spectator, Louise, that Ed Balls was involved. People around Gordon Brown and Ed Balls he named specifically, in fixing those Libor rates.
LM: That is completely false…
AJ: I’m just saying what’s in The Spectator this week.
LM: It’s important that you don’t misquote what George actually said. He said that people around Gordon Brown had been involved in making those calls. He said that Ed Balls had questions to answer over designer regulatory system. You musn’t collate the two. I understand that ‘if the cap fits, wear it’. But this is why Lady Vadera has questions to answer.
Johnny Rotten: This is why parliamentary committees cannot be trusted.
This is the section of the interview that the Question Time panel scrapped over:
If exonerating the Bank is his first priority, his second is tying this scandal to the last government. He starts by blaming the regulatory system devised by Brown and Balls for allowing these abuses to happen. But suddenly, and far more explosively, he moves on to the political efforts to keep Libor low during the financial crisis of 2008. ‘As for the role of the Labour government and the people around Gordon Brown — well I think there are questions to be asked of them,’ he says. He starts to discuss reports that those in the Brown circle were pressuring Barclays to manipulate the Libor rate it was paying. Then he drops a bombshell: ‘They were clearly involved and we just haven’t heard the full facts, I don’t think, of who knew what when.’
For Osborne to declare that those around Brown were involved in the efforts to keep Libor down is a remarkable charge, one sure to pour petrol on the political fire raging after it was revealed that ‘senior Whitehall sources’ were behind the pressure on Barclays over Libor. But Osborne doesn’t stop there.
He continues, ‘My opposite number was the City minister for part of this period and Gordon Brown’s right hand man for all of it. So he has questions to answer as well. That’s Ed Balls, by the way.’