Barclays former Chief Executive, Bob Diamond appeared before the Treasury Select Committee yesterday afternoon. This is the committee that would conduct the inquiry into banking practices, if Prime Minister David Cameron has his way. However, yesterday's proceedings of the committee clearly laid bare the limitations of the form.
The members of the committee demonstrated their inability to ascertain relevant facts. Three hours of questioning merely revealed that lack of competence. Mr Diamond addressed the members of the committee by their first names. He spoke slowly. He treated them to long, convoluted non-answers, which he liberally sprinkled with declarations of his own feelings
The frustration of the members of the committee was obvious to all who watched. One member of the committee subsequently felt constrained to ironically praise Diamond on how well briefed he was in "prevarication". Another member felt constrained to compare Mr Diamond to Geoff Boycott, who was renowned for being able to defend his wicket for long periods. MP David Ruffley told the BBC
Either he was complicit or, frankly, incompetent.
And that was a mild expression of the frustration and exasperation the members of the committee so obviously felt. What the proceedings so clearly revealed was, not so much Mr Diamond's capacity to fend off difficult questions, as the committee's lack of knowledge of details. Yesterday's farce demonstrated perfectly clearly the need for precise questions based on an in-depth knowledge. What we saw was a text-book illustration of the limitations of a parliamentary inquiry. Members of parliament were reduced to such rhetorical devices as asking Mr Diamond if he knew the Quaker principles on which Barclays had been founded? MP John Mann answered his own question, saying
Honesty, integrity and plain dealing.
And just like Geoffrey Boycott at the crease, Bob Diamond merely batted away the implication by claiming honesty, integrity and plain dealing summed up the way he did business.
The members of the committee demonstrated their ability to criticise Barclays and Mr Diamond, they showed their capacity to engage in rhetoric and display emotion, but, more significantly, they demonstrated their complete lack of ability to discover pertinent facts. Yesterday's proceedings, albeit unintentionally, made the case for a full, independent inquiry chaired by a judge.