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Well Ed Miliband has now called for a public enquiry into the banking system, and a great swathe of the liberal left are now chiming in with this demand.
Because apparently that is what we do in England when we are really, really angry about something. We demand that a member of the establishment looks into the matter, and that he does so in due course.
Yes, the well worn demand for an enquiry does leave me rather cold. On the one hand it reflects a traditional deference to men in wigs, and to the legal process, as a mechanism for distilling truth and delivering justice. Yet there it’s also something a little more contemporary about the spectacle of the public enquiry. What really excites us now is the prospect of watching Bob Diamond squirm as he is grilled by a clever lawyer. In this respect the appeal of the public enquiry is routed in the epoch of Celebrity Big Brother, during which the sight of some multimillionaire star being superficially humiliated has become a staple form of entertainment.
Perhaps, in this way, it speaks also to some folk memory of the traditional carnival, when, for one day a year, the dispossessed were allowed to parade round the streets with an effigy of some local lord, and fart in his face, before returning the next day to labour on his estate. For, whatever a “banking enquiry” uncovers, we will of course return thereafter to labour upon our masters’ estates.
The worst thing about public enquiries is the way in which they can actually replace and shunt out politics and debate. We saw this last week, when Ed Miliband promised “cross-party support” for the Leveson enquiry. This has been rather a hot topic throughout the whole process, with Leveson periodically meditating upon the need for a “political consensus”. Both Leveson and Blair seemed to agree that, whatever plan is settled upon to reform the media, the prime minister shouldn’t be left “exposed” by the advent of party political opposition.
This is all a polite way saying that an issue of such importance must be elevated above the fray of politics. That the matter is intricate and sensitive, and as such elected politicians should restrain themselves from arguing about it in front of the children – that is to say, ordinary voters like you and I.
Of course there is no quasi-judicial route to addressing the problems with banking, and with our highly financialized economy. Politics and proper analysis – not a legalistic uncovering of the facts – are what is needed. Amongst those opposed to the status quo, we have the people, the ideas, the online and offline publications, and the capacity to organise and to communicate. So let us not ask. deferentially, for a state-led process, dignified by legalistic procedure, in order that a light may be shined upon the city. Quite simply, we have no need.
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