Interview by Parliament. How to survive a select committee “grilling”.
The theatre starts. The microphones go live. Bob Diamond has entered the room. Andrew Tyrie welcomes him. Bob pours himself some water. He clears his throat. It all starts off rather well. Very civilised.
Three hours later it ends. Andrew Tyrie is resigned and says “we have tried”. Bob is untouched, like a wax jacket in a storm. Sure there were a few gusts of wind and a few sharp and spiky stiletto attacks that tried to get through the wax jacket cover. Some even came close. But this guy was good.
Bob Diamond had done his homework. He knew his message, he knew his audience, and he kept his cool.
He knew everyone by their first name and used their first names repeatedly – this put the interrogators off who all persisted with “Mr Diamond”. Some were visibly annoyed by his use of their first names. He didn’t seem bothered.
He had several clear messages that he stuck to rigidly. So much so that everyone knew them off by heart after an hour with one of the MPs quoting them back at him.
He was polite and deferential. But he often disputed and refused to accept the premise of questions. He repeatedly refused to answer questions unless in context or without insisting on giving the context. And he outlined again and again the three narratives that he wanted to use as backdrops to his questions.
Tyrie was the toughest questioner. He was dry and after facts and yes/no answers. Facts; dates; how frequent? Bob tried to reframe and contextualise but this was a broad brush CEO vs. a Details Accountant. This would have been a far more interesting match if the three hours had been Tyrie vs. Diamond. Less fun for Diamond though. And much more dangerous.
Then the rest of the Treasury Select Committee had a go. They can be broadly split into, and with a few exceptions, bank haters (Labour) who rant a lot, and ex-bankers (Conservatives) who have been there and done it in banking and know what questions to ask.
The problem of course with Select Committees (I have helped people prep for these encounters) is that everyone has to have a go. They are public outings for the Select Committee members and they all have their questions to ask. But they don’t always seem to follow on from each other or to act as a pack.
In comparison, Bob Diamond sat alone, prepped, with several lines and loads of context. He may not have scored many or any runs – but he didn’t concede any wickets either. Excuse the cricket, but John Thurso went as far as comparing him to Geoffrey Boycott, so I am allowed.
He may have only left his job on Tuesday, but for Bob Diamond this was a job interview, a bit of theatre to show how good he was, how good Barclays was and how well they had done. It was a chance to say goodbye and to big up Barclays and the Barclays staff. And to say nothing else whatsoever.
The Conservatives were all keen to show how tough they were. They know their stuff too. Jesse Norman, Michael Fallon, Mark Garnier and Andrea Leadsom all asked knowledgeable questions. Leadsom was the most dangerous with her questions about gilts, while David Ruffley wagged his finger and seemed to want to send Diamond to prison.
The Labour gang were all keen to provoke Diamond with the agreed mantra – you were either complicit, incompetent or negligent. Please choose a tag and wear it. Did they expect him to break under their pressure like Col. Nathan R.Jessup in A Few Good Men? Fat chance!
He fixed them with his stare, sort of politely. Like the murderer does who is memorising your face for later. And then, ignoring their questions to varying extents, in a measured tone, he answered the questions he felt like answering with the answers he felt like giving.
George Moodie tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to agree with Ed Miliband and/or join the Labour Party with a question about an inquiry. That didn’t work did it?
Teresa Pearce’s staffer had been doing word counts of the Barclays annual report – and “profit” was apparently mentioned more often than “ethical” and something else.
John Mann desperately needed some YouTube footage for his parliamentary website. He offered to tattoo the Quaker’s founding principles of “honesty, integrity, plain dealing” on Mr Diamond’s body before calling Barclays a “rotten thieving bank” in an Enoch Powell-like, “my constituents say” kind of way.
His researchers had been busy too – finding some old reports which he read quotes from. It confused me. It confused Bob too. He shook his head and said: “Sorry John, is there a question?” He said it politely. But it still made me laugh.
John Thurso was sneaky. He tricked Diamond into speaking bank geek and then triumphantly used this as a rationale for separating investment backs from retail banks. “No John…” Diamond responds…
Diamond must be knackered. Three hours on your tod with all of them against you. Just water to drink. If I was him I would have spoiled myself to a very good Scotch after.
This was my column for The Commentator