Friday, February 13, 2009

Layer 121 A Series of Gaffes; Bankers and MPs in the Dock.

This should have been posted yesterday.

Being a full-time carer (for son and dog) and keeping up with reading and TV viewing about the appalling things happening currently leaves precious little time for journal writing. Makes me feel nostalgic for quieter and less momentous times when it seemed easier to focus on pleasanter and more enjoyable events.

Nevertheless there are lighter moments in the day, like this morning listening to veteran star of radio comedy Clement Freud on the Today programme, discussing ‘old age’ - “At 84 your memory begins to go . . . a bit . . . and also . . . at 84 . . . your memory . . . begins to go . . . a bit.”

Other good chuckles include hearing that Prince Harry is being sent on an ‘Equalities Course’ “after a series of gaffes”. Also hearing that (following the rows about the bankers’ greed and incompetence completely collapsing the economy and ruining our financial system) “there’s now concern that ‘quality bankers’ won’t now come forward to sit on supervisory boards.” God help us.

And why indeed should they want to do us any favours (leaving aside the fact that the bastards get paid shedloads for doing it) when the rest of us want to see them hanging from lampposts? I’m right in saying that, aren’t I? Is there anyone who doesn’t want to see bankers hanging from lampposts?

And can you even imagine Harry sitting there studiously on his equalities course, taking in the idea that all people are created equal and deserve equal opportunities, respect, blah, blah . . . ?

HEL-LO? This is a fucking PRINCE we’re talking about! Who voted for him? The very epitome of elitism, inequality and privilege!

So what else is worth recording and celebrating? Marina Hyde wrote a very witty piece in the sports section this week, remarking on the fact that this year the football transfer window deadline was on Groundhog Day.

She focused on Sky Sports News’ “clone army of deadline-day reporters . . . getting snowed on outside Andrei Arshavin’s burrow . . . informing viewers whether or not Punxsutawney Phil Scolari had seen his shadow and thought there might be another six weeks in this for him”. (There wasn’t)

Remember the moment where Bill Murray narrows his eyes at the camera and drawls: "This is one time when television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather"? That's the kind of sarcasm-dripping bitterness I'd have liked to see from Sky's David Craig, stationed outside St James' Park. "This is the one time when television really fails to capture the true excitement of a possible Ryan Taylor move to Newcastle."

A personal favourite moment was their parading of a kid who obligingly told the cameras something along the lines of "it's brilliant – you just watch Sky Sports News all day and you never miss a single thing". It's a living, my son. But it's not a life. Still, I hope he got his tenner and went out and enjoyed the snow.

As the day wore on, though, I couldn't help feeling that the joke might be on us, we cynics who decline to celebrate the transfer window deadline day for the charming spectacle that it really is – the moment we mark the end of a month originally designed to get people to behave decently, but which swiftly became a licence for them to behave like absolute shysters from around mid-November.

Perhaps it is we who deserve to be woken by the alarm each morning, only to switch on Sky Sports News and discover that it is still deadline day, and will always be, until we somehow manage to transcend the experience. Because the lesson of Groundhog Day – and the reason it has been praised by Buddhist teachers, among others – is that a wretched experience will repeat itself until you stop trying to take petty advantage of it. Only when you resolve to be better will you transcend it.


But there’s no getting away from the main issues of the week, which are still the bankers, the bonuses, the corruption, the City, Wall Street and the financial crisis (credit crunch!!!) in general.

The pithiest and funniest comment on it was on today’s Daily Show, from the brilliant Jon Stewart, naturally:

“Wall Street didn’t like the particulars of the latest trillion dollar bailout? Wall Street doesn’t seem to understand the particulars of the rescuer/rescuee relationship! They’re like someone complaining about not getting a window seat on the rescue boat! What the fuck were you doing in the water in the first place!?”

Trudging through the rain in town yesterday I was handed copies of thelondonpaper and London Lite, groovy free sheets full of first class journalism and fascinating facts and opinions.

Thelondonpaper headline - Revenge of the Whistleblower: Brown Adviser Quits Over Sacking of HBOS Banker (i.e. sacking of the bank’s ‘head of risk’, who’d pointed out that HBOS was making far too many dangerous investments)

London Lite headline - PM’s Aide Quits Over Bank Row: Regulator Goes After Whistleblower Speaks Out. “Gordon Brown’s favourite City regulator was forced to quit today amid claims that he sacked a whistleblower. Sir James Crosby was handpicked by Mr Brown to become the deputy head of the FSA, the City watchdog.”

Clearly Mr Brown is in deep shit.

The Guardian’s editorial yesterday focused on the appearance of the bankers, the former head honchos, in front of the Treasury select committee.

“They dutifully mouthed their apologies, just as the PR men had said they must. On cross-examination, the admission of culpability turned out to be less than it had appeared. The former HBOS chair, Dennis Stevenson, clarified that they were sorry "for what happened to their businesses", namely the drying up of global money markets. He might as well have expressed remorse for the foul February weather.

The committee heard allegations that an employee who had blown the whistle over risk had been fired for his pains by one-time HBOS chief and Gordon Brown associate Sir James Crosby. This reinforced the sense that hubris had sown the seeds of nemesis. That hubris should have been the focus of remorse yesterday.

Sorry may be the hardest word, but it was not the only thing the guilty men found it tough to say. They agreed there was an "interesting debate" around remuneration, but none accepted that their own outsize pay packets were connected to the poor decisions they had made.”


It’s worth reading the whole of that editorial, but everyone MUST read Simon Jenkins’ brilliant opinion piece - “The banker show trail is in vain. Put MPs in the dock.”

Yesterday's show trial of bankers in the House of Commons was a waste of urgent time. It was an exercise in apologetic hindsight conducted, so it seemed, almost entirely in Scottish.

Extracting parliament's favourite word, sorry, was predictably easy, and meaningless. Anyone can say sorry.

What we await is the remotest idea as to why bankers, or the institutions they represent, should still be trusted with rescuing the British economy from recession.

At this point a banker has no profession, let alone a role as a national hero.

The money has gone into relieving balance sheets coated in red. It is throwing good money after bad, otherwise known as madness.

Giving it to already failed institutions in such a way that they were sure to cause it to vanish was plain stupid.

The banks should have been taken into temporary public ownership, their deposits protected by the state and their commercial lending ring-fenced with public money. It happens in war. It is not that difficult.

Just as Labour opposed privatisation when it was needed, so now it opposes nationalisation when it is needed. Its ideological knickers are in a total twist. Some ministers were allegedly persuaded by officials (and journalists) that they should not "play banker". It is hard to see what else they were playing when they were devoting such huge sums of public money to bank subsidies. Why give the money if not for some public purpose?

Unless banks are nationalised and directed, and financial institutions can channel public money into credit, these sums will just vanish into balance sheets.

The show trial that should be staged is not of bankers or journalists but of ministers, who have now blown £200bn of public money on a massively failed strategy for staving off recession – indeed on making it worse. Because ministers are from the same club as MPs, they are let off lightly. There will be no show trial of the chancellor.

The truth is that if anyone has slept through this sorry affair, it has been parliament. If I were the second team of bankers appearing before the Commons today, I would take a large mirror into the room and hold it up in the face of the committee. Let them see themselves in the dock for once.

What were they doing as the economy lurched to war? Perhaps they might say sorry too.

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