Are the bankers to blame?

The government and the media have singled out the banking community as the route cause of the current recession. Alice disagrees
Investment banking
Commercial awareness

Dear Alice,

Did you see the former CEOs of the high street banks facing a grilling from those men on the Treasury Select Committee?

What did you think? Are the bankers really to blame for our financial crisis?

Why does everyone seem to hate a money lender at the moment?



University of Manchester

Hello Howard,

I am quite used to being put under pressure by a group of frustrated men. The more men and the stronger their pressure the better I always say. The last time I was probed around a green baize table, I was paying the price for loosing a game of snooker to a young hustler who had a talent for sinking his pink. There was a man who did not need to extend his cue. Another experience to chalk up.

However, it was not jealousy I felt for the excitedly named Andy Hornby (the former CEO of HBoS and not the first Hornby to suffer from a badly built model) but sympathy.

I found the questioning of the disgraced bankers by the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee a huge act of hypocrisy by the MPs that were posing the questions.

Sir Fred Goodwin (ex RBS CEO), Sir Tom McKillop (ex RBS Chairman), Hornby himself and Lord Stephenson (ex HBoS Chairman) were held to account by MPs for their part in causing the credit crunch and our subsequent economic problems.

The Committee was chaired by Labour Party hypocrite, professional Scotsperson and lifelong civil servant, the aptly named John McFall.

Where were McFolly and his committee three years ago? It's easy to be wise after the event: to hold to account afterwards.

Granted, the bankers have completely ruined their banks. They have desecrated their shareholders' value. If it had not been for the Government bailing them out, they would have lost all their customers' money. They have completely failed in their lending role. They totally misjudged the risks of their capital markets operations. Their failure is total.

So the bankers' mea culpa as they opened their remarks with unreserved apologies for their follies was the least they owed us. Far from 'sorry' being the hardest word, it is actually one of the easiest.

However, before we start hanging the bankers from the lampposts, we should ask who else was complicit and / or incompetent along with them?

The answer to that question is just about everyone in a position of economic and political authority.

The Bank of England utterly failed in its requirements for capital adequacy from the retail, commercial and investment banks. The FSA failed totally to regulate the banks and the financial system.

And sitting highest of all atop the tree of incompetence and complicity is then-Chancellor, now our Prime Minster, Gordon Brown.

As recently as 2002, Brown waxed lyrical in his Mansion House speech: "What you, as the City of London, have achieved for financial services we, as a government, now aspire to achieve for the whole economy."

Where were the Government, the FSA and the MPs asking their searching questions during the years of economic growth?

Not only did they not ask any tempering questions, let alone apply the economic or regulatory brakes to the bankers' activities, they positively encouraged them.

The Government itself was borrowing as much as anyone. The wasted public expenditure of the last eight years has been funded by borrowing, setting the tempo for the rest of us. If it was ok for the Government to borrow in massive quantities on our behalf, why was it wrong for companies and individuals?

And they needed the City from two other respects: (1) they needed the tax revenues from their profits and trades; (2) they needed them to shift the massive quantities of government bonds they were issuing to fund their borrowing.

The ultimate sign of the lunacy of the proceedings, was that Brown's Government actually gave Sir Fred Goodwin his knighthood! If that wasn't tacit contemporaneous approval for what he was doing, I don't know what was!

Some of the questions asked by the MPs of the bankers beggared belief. Andy Hornby, educated at Oxford and with a MBA from Harvard and generally hailed over the last 10 years as one of the brightest and hardest working executives of his generation was asked by McFall's committee 'what qualifications do you have to be a banker?'. In response to which, I ask, 'what qualifications has John MyFault to be a MP? Or Gordon Brown to be prime minister?'

MuckFall is no academic or professional genius. He studied not at Oxbridge but at Paisley College of Technology (now the University of Paisley) and the University of Strathclyde. He also has a degree from that world-class academic institution - the Open University, in Education and Philosophy. Like Gordon Brown himself, he has never had a job in the private sector or in effect created any wealth for the UK. He has consumed taxes, not generated them. All he has been is a teacher and a public servant.

What makes my blood boil are people who have never done a proper job presiding over people who have, encouraging them on the way up the cycle, taking the credit for their success and hard work, then blaming on the way down but avoiding all culpability for their failures.

If the bankers were playing badly in the City playground, it was because the headmaster not only failed to set rules which prevented their excesses, not only failed to instruct his playground supervisors (the FSA and the Bank of England) to regulate the bankers' behaviour, but actually positively encouraged them.

After a war, the victors tend to put the losing political and military leaders on trial for war crimes or crimes against humanity, when they have often done far worse themselves. No one holds military winners to account. At Nuremberg, after the end of WW2, the Allies executed countless German soldiers for acts of violence against civilians, whereas we were never put on trial for blanket bombing whole cities of civilian houses like Dresden and Tokyo.

That's what the Treasury Select Committee reminded me of...guilty men asking questions of other guilty men but using those questions as a cloak of distraction to shine the light of inquisition in one direction only - towards the bankers, and away from the politicians.

However, the MPs and our Prime Minister will not be able to avoid the torch of truth for much longer. As the economy slides deeper into recession, as a million more people become unemployed, as the public finances are destroyed, as our currency loses its value on the foreign exchanges and our national credit worthiness is tarnished so that we cannot sell our debt abroad, and as we finally resort to printing money to make up our massive deficit like a tin-pot third world dictatorship, leaving a legacy of indebtedness, unfunded public services and the spectre of inflation for future generations, Gordon Brown will have to finally admit what they rest of us surely know already - that this crisis might have been born as an international citizen, but it was incubated in Britain by Brown.

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