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Times are trough in the City again
WITH the same sickening inevitability as vile summer weather has come the latest scandal involving some of this country’s supposed high fliers, which has already seen the departure of the chairman of Barclays and its chief exec due to be grilled by MPs tomorrow.
Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised any more by revelations about the banking industry’s “big boys”, to quote one of the emails revealing the fiddling of interest rates.
We’ve been shocked by other groups who’ve shown similar traits; the MPs and peers who maximised their expenses and the journalists who sparked the Leveson Inquiry to name but two, people probably motivated by either the money or the desire to advance their “career”, possibly influenced by an extreme version of the ideas of individualism and a pseudo-Darwinian notion of survival of fittest.
Quite simply, they all thought they were above the rules that govern the rest of us.
But the top end of the banking industry holds a particularly unenviable record, having slipped from its previous position of national pre-eminence when its reckless practices plunged us from false boom into very real bust, and then when its leaders were at the forefront of bosses awarding themselves mega-rewards even though their performance looked pretty paltry. Though the latest revelations largely refer to events from a few years ago, such repeat behaviour still suggests stupidity as well as arrogance.
And there are real victims in all this – the small businesses mis-sold potentially ruinous financial packages, and the taxpayers who lost out as banks improved their own position by colluding on interest rates. We were treated with the utmost selfishness and contempt by people who either thought they’d always get away with it or somehow had a right to behave that way.
Well, when that happens and serious damage is being done there are things society as a whole can do about it. I’m not sure about the effectiveness of a Parliamentary review or even another big public inquiry; I doubt banking hearings would have Leveson’s entertainment value.
Nor do I mean ripping apart the banking industry; that would make no more sense than tearing down the House of Commons to sort out the expenses scandal. But the revelation that the Serious Fraud Office is considering whether to bring charges over the scandal is another matter.
Because I think it’s time we considered dishing out a bit of exemplary justice, which is what happens when the authorities crack down hard on offenders not only to punish them, but to put the chill wind of fear through those who may be minded to do something similar.
It’s not something I normally feel comfortable with, but our society does do it in cases considered sufficiently serious. I feel fairly safe in suggesting it happened with some of last summer’s rioters, I suspect it featured in the handling of some of the most extreme Parliamentary expenses cases and I have a feeling some journalists may be getting the treatment fairly shortly.
So why not do it with some of the minority of “bad apples” in the banking industry? That shouldn’t harm the majority of decent employees and, along with toughening the rules, might just prevent some of this happening again; probably a whole lot more than a few bosses taking what’s effectively an early retirement to appease the revolting masses.
It would undoubtedly be complicated to bring cases to court, particularly following the intriguing suggestion that some of those involved believed the Bank of England had approved the interest rate shenanigans. But maybe some of the £290 million Barclays fine could go towards hiring good investigators and lawyers.
Meanwhile, on Thursday we will apparently learn which of the Army’s battalions are for the chop, decisions based partly on the highly suspect notion you can pick and choose the kind of conflict you’re going to be involved in during future decades. But if the British people had their way, who would be getting public bail-outs – the City of London or those soldiers?
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