Page last updated at 09:43 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Banking bosses head for a McFall

By Tim Reid
Westminster reporter, BBC Scotland

If "sorry" is the word of the moment, then a certain McFall is the man of the moment.

John McFall
Mr McFall refused to give the prime minister an easy ride

The chairman of the Treasury select committee has taken centre stage at Westminster, managing to extract apology after apology from the four men held responsible, by some, for the entire UK banking crisis.

John McFall has become something of a political celebrity. He's been on television and radio more than any other politician this week - more even than the prime minister.

His influential committee was broadcast live across the UK for at least 6 solid hours - his forensic questioning getting under the skin not just of former bank chiefs like Sir Fred "the Shred" Goodwin, but a day later of the men currently in charge of the banks.

Then on Thursday, the West Dunbartonshire MP was able to add the prime minister to the list.

The former Glasgow head teacher has a no nonsense way about him, rather like a Scottie dog with a bone. Mr McFall has rather made the banking crisis his own to solve and his bark can be as bad as his bite.

He had a bone to pick with the bankers past, the bankers present and not least their bonuses.

Not happy with their answers he wanted proposals right there, from Gordon Brown during Thursday's committee session, to bring what he described as the bonus "obscenity" to an end.

The man of the moment knows how to grab the attention. "Is sorry the hardest part?" was his opening gambit to the deposed chairmen and chief executives of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland.

Slapped down

Unconvinced by their apologies, he questioned their contrition. "What exactly are you apologising for? We've been told you've been coached extensively and meticulously by PR people and lots of money has been spent, so are you expressing sympathy because your PR advisers advised you to do so?"

"No," said the bankers, but Mr McFall's disdain was plain to see - and the public relations damage was done.

Twenty four hours later, the bone once again between his teeth, Mr McFall's first question to the five current bank chiefs was this: "As institutions, why do you think you are hated so much by the public?"

It is clear whose side the chairman is on and it is no wonder that the word "sorry" ended up being spewed all over the committee room. Who wouldn't.

Titian"s Diana and Actaeon
A Tory member of staff altered Titian's Wikipedia entry
But John McFall is also a very loyal Labour MP, so how would he deal with the prime minister when the liaison committee of Commons chairmen and women interrogated him?

Mr Brown tried to start with a joke about not being able to make his evidence "as exciting" as the treasury committee chief's previous two days of it.

But he was slapped down and told: "Get on with it".

Sounding irritated about why bonuses were still on offer when the taxpayer had bailed out the banks in question, Mr McFall got much tougher with his leader.

"Why don't you come out with some firm purpose this morning, that we are going to sort this out?" he asked.

He did extract from the prime minister a promise that the government was going to act, though full details of those proposals aren't yet fully clear.

It was not, of course, just the bankers apologising this week.

The Tories had to do it after an "over eager party worker" altered Wikipedia - to help David Cameron win a bizarre argument with the prime minister over the date of the Renaissance painter Titian's death.

It's rather ironic, since the Tory leader has spent weeks trying to extract the word "sorry" for anything he can think of from the prime minister.

Mr Cameron failed, once again this week. Maybe he should enlist the assistance of a certain Mr McFall.

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