The committee witness bites back

“Why the hell do you think we bought the damn company?” barked Jon Moulton yesterday at the MPs interrogating him over the collapse of City Link – the parcel delivery business.

The private equity veteran had just been accused of acquiring the business without any intention of turning it around, and being indifferent to its Christmas collapse.

But, in one of the most combative select committee performances I can remember, the blunt and defiant Mr Moulton decided he was going to give as good as he got.

A great summary of a fascinating encounter features on Yesterday in Parliament – about 45 minutes into the Today programme on Wednesday.

At one stage the Conservative MP Brian Binley tells him straight, “the actions of your business shocked me”.

Then it’s implied that Moulton was in charge of the company in question, to which he fires back “You don’t run the country, and I don’t run this company.”

Ian Davidson, the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee thanks him at the end for “a full and frank exchange of views” – always diplomatic-speak for an almighty bust-up.

In the face of increasingly aggressive committee evidence sessions, most witnesses are only too happy to survive these encounters without major slip-ups. It’s very rare for anyone to go on the offensive.

Select Committee Chairs (most notably Margaret Hodge and Keith Vaz) have revelled in their high-profile roles during this parliament.

They’ve summoned the titans of industry & finance, as well as the leading lights of the public sector. Many have squirmed and stuttered their way through questions.

Some have been dismissed as “unacceptable”, “troubling”, “inadequate” or “lacking credibility”, and several have been hauled back for a second pasting.

This appearance by Andrew Cecil of Amazon  was described by one committee member as “pathetic”.

In response, an entire industry has grown up around the preparation of executives for grilling by MPs.  A host of firms now offer select committee training.

I’d be fascinated to know whether Jon Moulton had any such coaching before yesterday’s session. Or whether the fearless financier simply decided to be himself, and speak his mind.  

After all, this is a man who listed “insensitivity” as one of his greatest strengths.

“It lets you sleep when others can’t”, he once told the FT.