There was a time during Tony Blair's premiership when private equity was under sustained attack from the GMB and left-wing Labour MPs. At the time I was involved in the issue because I was advising one of the leading private equity companies ...
What was fascinating then and may cause some surprise now is that the great supporters of private equity were Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and their key aides. These included (unsurprisingly) Geoffrey Norris and Shriti Vadera, two of the most pro business advisers ever to work at Number 10 or HM Treasury. There was another supporter of private equity. His name was Ed Balls who during his time at HM Treasury won great respect from the City. There was another Ed at HM Treasury. I suspect you have guessed his surname.
One of the most interesting elements of Gordon Brown's personality was his desire to win the respect of the City and the leading figures within it. The support and endorsement of the FT were much more important to him than anything else. In many ways he was a great Chancellor.
What may also cause surprise to those on both the left and right of British politics is that the Tory Party under David Cameron and George Osborne was much cooler towards private equity than Blair, Brown and their senior political and economic advisers. The scepticism shown by George towards the banks and the City is not a sudden fad. He has never been one of their fans. He has been consistent. Can the same be said of Ed Balls?
There were two key factors which saved private equity from the hordes at the gate. The first was John McFall summoning the leading players of the industry and forcing them to commit to change. History will be very generous to John McFall. He showed just how powerful a select committee can be. The second was the decision to ask Sir David Walker to head an inquiry into the most controversial elements of the industry's behaviour. His recommendations were accepted without argument or debate. The industry recognised just how close they had been to the precipice.
In the end private equity survived and is now no longer a political issue because of massive political support from Number 10 and HM Treasury who were decisive and consistent in both public and in private.
As a now semi detached observer of matters political I am growing increasingly baffled by the collective amnesia being displayed by senior Labour politicians. They seem to have forgotten what they did when they were in office. This is why I do support a Leveson type inquiry into British banking. The truth will be very uncomfortable for many of today's senior politicians in all the parties. It will be particularly difficult for Labour politicians past and present. It still needs to be said for the public good.
In the short term Andrew Tyrie (a maverick politician who I respect greatly) must rise to the occasion and unleash the full powers of his committee on not only Bob Diamond but on all the senior figures in the industry. He must summon them before him and make them apologise for what they have done and what they have become. Only then can a way forward be envisaged.
Becoming Catholic for a moment the banking industry needs to go to confession, wipe the slate clean, receive a hefty penance and then ponder what to do next. If the leading bankers have a conscience (some do) then they must surely realise the time has come to stand down and make way for a new generation of leaders who are moral as well as economic creatures.
These are bad days not only for the body politic but also for the City of London. The only solution is to listen to Act Three of Parsifal ...
What do you think?