Just before the resignations of Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, chief operating officer Jerry del Missier and then CEO Bob Diamond, Sir Mervyn King suggested that there is “something wrong” with the UK banking system. It is comforting to know that the Governor of the Bank of England is in procession of such remarkable powers of deduction.
Although it is tempting to do the Roman emperor joke, the Now Show on Radio 4 did it to death with the result that it is no longer funny. It`s probably best to stick to the joke about Marcus Aguis being back as Chairman of Barclays faster than you can say revolving door once shyster Diamond realised he was bang to rights. Aguis also resigned as Chairman of the British Bankers` Association, a body that collates the Libor information fraudulently manipulated by Barclays and, as is likely to become clear, lots and lots of other banks. It is comforting to know that it is not just the doors that revolve in UK banking, but fraud and some very dodgy dealing have a circular rotation with a turn of speed that is the envy of the Large Hadron Collider.
The rapid return of Aguis to the chairmanship of Barclays has been justified by claims that he is the best qualified to find a replacement for the departed Chief Executive Officer. Already, the Murdoch “a few bad apples” defence is being cited and the resignations of senior executives held up as examples of honourable men taking responsibility for the bad behaviour of underlings. A little bit like Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks then. Aguis talks of the hard work required to regain trust and urges restraint in launching a witch hunt. Perhaps Stephen Hester will become available for the Barclays job when the temporary computer glitch at RBS NatWest is finally resolved after three weeks and counting. Or even Sir Fred Goodwin; he`s not doing much at the moment. In the short term, however, Aguis is busy brokering the severance deal that will allow Diamond to walk away with an estimated £25million. It is comforting to know that crime doesn`t pay.
It is now blindingly obvious the financial services industry in the UK requires a root and branch investigation and regulation. This places the coalition government stuck in the revolving door trying to push their way out of the bank as angry shareholders and customers are trying to push their way into the bank to quickly withdraw their cash. For all the fine talk of the importance of stability and trust in order to reassure “the markets”, we can be confident that the bunch of crooks running British banks are just as corrupt as any other bunch of crooks illegally fixing “the markets”. It is comforting to know that the Chancellor wishes to protect the vast bonuses paid to bankers even as people with disabilities are taking their own lives after having state support removed.
Calls for a judicial inquiry into professional standards in the banking system caused hysterical shrieking on the Conservative benches and left the Chancellor looking more like dead meat road kill than his more usual rabbit in the headlights stance. Cameron and his chums realised some time ago that judicial inquiries are a very bad idea for a government that continually misleads parliament. Leveson might be a judge but under his terms of reference, he can only make recommendations. He will finally offer his report goodness knows when and then it will be up to the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service to decide on wrongdoing and the clear evidence of perjury given by the testament of witnesses under oath. Even if successful prosecutions are possible, the further investigations will take years and years and years.
In naked desperation, the Conservatives fought tooth and claw for a parliamentary investigation into the behaviour of the banks with Osborne in particular accusing Ed Balls of being implicit in the colossal scam. The entirely false accusations were quietly withdrawn after the vote to keep a million miles away from judges, QC`s and oaths taken on the Bible was carried helped along by spineless Liberal Democrats. So, second mortgage flippers, the cleaners of moats, the commissioners of duck houses and the recipients of lovely big dollops of cash from bankers will sit in judgement on bankers. It is comforting to know that the allegations by Cameron, Osborne and feral Conservatives are not considered serious enough to be repeated in front of a judge and so ministers will be spared the indignity of being forced to lie under oath.
With a finance bill due to be tabled in January based on the results of the Vickers Report, it is vital for the government that this latest unpleasantness is kicked as far into the long grass as is possible. The Serious Fraud Office was poked with a stick and 24 hours after the Osborne road kill was scraped off the tarmac and frisbeed into the undergrowth, a very brief statement told of a criminal inquiry into Libor fixing. SFO investigations can take between 18 months and two years before any charges can be considered and, given the complexity of fraud cases, can take an even longer period once brought before a court. The added bonus for those with something to hide is that the scope of the parliamentary treasury select committee investigation will be severely curtailed for fear of prejudicing an ongoing criminal investigation and any subsequent attempt at prosecution. By 2016, there will be a new parliament, public anger will be focussed elsewhere and the grass will have grown very, very long.
The treasury select committee is chaired by Andrew Tyrie, Conservative member for Chichester and former critic of Osborne`s economic policy. Tyrie received an apology from the BBC after they suggested that he was “nobbled” by notorious spin doctor Steve Hilton at the party conference in October 2011. After a quiet word, the Chancellor`s growth policy went from being “incoherent and inconsistent” to “welcomed”. The BBC was quite correct in apologising for such outrageous and obviously untrue allegations. Mr Hilton started a sabbatical away from advising government in May of this year. He is now in the US studying how government works.
Tyrie will be able to call all manner of the good and the great but after Bob Diamond ran rings around the treasury committee the day after he resigned and with a SFO investigation keeping the lid on things, it is unlikely that some rather dim MP`s will match the forensic skills of Lord Justice Leveson or Mr Robert Jay QC. No, it`s probably best to let the SFO spend four or five years dealing with something as plain as the nose on your face and allow the implicated to plead the usual financial privilege argument when asked a difficult question at select committee. Financial privilege allows ministers to remain silent when asked to explain their almighty cock-ups for fear of endangering the general public good and national interest.
In the 2011-2012 financial year, operating with an annual budget of £38.8million and a staff of 307, the SFO secured 38 convictions. The department is the responsibility of the current Attorney General, the Right Honourable Dominic Grieve QC and Conservative member for Beaconsfield. The Attorney General is an old boy of Colet Court preparatory school, the private school later attended by Chancellor Osborne. Millionaire Grieve went on to be educated at Westminster School, the private school later attended by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. It is comforting to know that an expensive private education has prepared these representatives for the arduous task of holding wealthy, privately educated bankers to account.
In the meantime, Bob Diamond is, as they say, laughing all the way to the bank.