You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air –
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there! – TS Eliot
TAKING an inventory of the financial state we are in, there appears to be something missing in our response to the crisis. We have plenty of recriminations and told-you-sos. Doomsayers and soothsayers, graphics and gloaters, long-overdue apologies from men with hard faces who've had a good economic war. Tick all those boxes. What is missing, what this meltdown needs, is a poem.
Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish poet laureate (not to be confused with Liz Lochhead, Scotland's makar), reflected on the financial crisis in her Twelve Days of Christmas ("We paid the bluddy pipers, but we dinnae call the tune"), but that piece is getting on now.
In these fast-changing days it may be advisable to rely on the old standards, and in the presence of Ed Miliband's huff and puff one could do worse than reach for TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and the ode to Macavity.
It is the strangest thing, a phenomenon worthy of investigation at Cern now that it has almost done the business with the God particle. To hear the Labour leader's howls of outrage over the latest banking scandals, one might have thought both he and his party had fallen from the sky recently like raindrops. Can this really be the same Mr Miliband who was once a researcher to Gordon Brown, shadow Chancellor, then a special adviser to Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, then a cabinet minister under Mr Brown? The same Mr Miliband who, together with Ed Balls and Gordon Brown, formed the most inseparable threesome since The Andrews Sisters? And wasn't it Labour in power when the Libor rates were being manipulated between 2005 and 2009?
Going by the pointing of Labour fingers in the past couple of weeks, all this is merely a coincidence, and highlighting it merely part of a Tory scheme to shift the blame from where it belongs, with the Coalition. The Tories were certainly flinging the mud around yesterday in the Commons, largely in the direction of Ed Balls, as the UK parliament debated how to respond to the crisis of confidence in banking. Mr Balls countered that it was "utterly false" to claim he had ever put pressure on anyone over the Libor rate.
Is this the Tories up to familiar tricks again? We all know the Tories, don't we, friends of the bankers, bankrolled by the bankers, a lot of them used to be bankers. If anyone is to blame for signing over the sweet shop to a gang of greedy children it is surely the Conservatives.
One wouldn't wish to minimise the culpability of any currently serving, high-ranking politician when it comes to the recent banking scandals. The Coalition Government has been in power long enough to establish a dozen inquiries should it have been so minded. Look at the speed with which it set up Leveson. In general, this is a Government so economically cack-handed it is still clearing up the mess from its own Budget.
That said, the amnesia being displayed by the Labour leadership is beginning to make that business with Bobby Ewing and the shower look normal. The Dallas character was only missing for one year; Mr Miliband would apparently like us to believe he and his party were showering for most of the Nineties and Noughties when in fact Labour was actively courting the financial sector, then promoting and installing light-touch regulation.
While it is heartening to see today's Labour party take up the good fight against the excesses of the money men, there was a time, not so long ago, when Labour could scarcely have been chummier with the Square Mile.
According to those who invented New Labour, the people's party would never be trusted by the British people until it regained a reputation for economic competence. After the IMF bailout, the Winter of Discontent, the 1983 manifesto, and the miners' strike, Labour, said its new image masters, was regarded as a basket case when it came to the economy. Without fixing this, there was no way the electorate, particularly in the south of England, would ever vote the party into office again.
Making Labour appear economically competent required a twin-track approach. The first was to wait around while the Tories fell apart. The scrapping over Europe and crashing out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism took care of that. The second approach was to step up the prawn cocktail offensive begun under the late shadow chancellor and leader John Smith. Between them, Mr Brown and Tony Blair dined for victory. Meanwhile, Mr Brown kept a white-knuckle hold on the purse strings. No spending commitments that could not be met. No boom and bust. No return to the bad old days. It worked.
Once in government, the relationship between Labour and the City should have moved on. It should have been clear who the masters were, and that they didn't reside in EC1. Yet Labour persisted in seeing the City as its friend, as the engine of the economy, the thing that paid for all that lovely extra spending on the health service and public sector in general. Let them get on with it was the mantra, light-touch regulation would allow a thousand bonuses and hospital beds to bloom. As David Cameron would one day say of the press and the Tories, the City and Labour got too close.
This matters, and not just because so many of the protagonists from those days are still around, including Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor who now has a different job leading the Better Together campaign. Does Mr Darling now believe his old government and the City were better together, or should they have stayed further apart?
Labour was not alone in its laissez-faire approach to the financial services sector. The party inherited it from the Tories and gave it a New Labour spin, but it was the same old Thatcherite, hands off strategy that held good as long as the money kept rolling in.
Now that the money has had to flow the other way, from the public to the banks, it is time for the old assumptions and auld alliances to go the way of threepenny bits. Labour is welcome to play the wise men and women after the events, but don't insult us by playing the blameless.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.