Sorry to harp on about LIBOR and the exploits of bad-boy
bankers, but attempts to implicate the Bank of England and certain Labour
politicians into the scandal miss the point.
It may be true that Gordon Brown’s government asked
the Old Lady to lean on Barclays to reduce its inter-bank lending rate, and from
what we know of both institutions it’s also entirely feasible. But that incident wouldn’t explain the
emailed congratulations (“This one’s for you, big boy” and “The Bollinger’s on
me, dude”) that accompanied earlier incidents involving Barclays executives boasting
of the favours they’ve bestowed on their friends.
Nobody, including this writer, is surprised that this sort
of thing goes on in the City. It always
has, and undoubtedly always will. The
old boy network may no longer wear certain school ties, or speak with the
clipped accents of public schools, but it still exists. The difference is that today’s bankers seem to
have little acquaintance with the old-fashioned concepts of discretion. They seem to revel publicly in their power
and their wealth with a carelessness that ignores the danger of press scrutiny
and thereby invites it.
Of course, the bankers of yesteryear didn’t enjoy the
advantages, or suffer the disadvantages, of the array of electronic
paraphernalia available today – emails and blackberries and the like – which evidently
encourage the kind of self-aggrandizing behaviour we now read about in the
papers almost daily. But one wonders
whether, even if they’d had the means, they would have fallen into the trap of
leaving trails of evidence in the ether.
There was a time when nothing was written down. The Bank of England was famous for dispensing
its views by means of winks and nods.
Nowadays, everyone feels compelled to write an email or a memorandum,
which is instantly preserved for the record.
That obvious fact is one that bankers either choose to
ignore or contrive to forget, suggesting that they are either arrogant or
foolish. The offence is compounded by
the vast, meretricious salaries and bonuses earned, or one should say awarded.
Bankers have become stars – or as we now say,
celebrities – courting the same prurient curiosity evident in the worlds of
sport, movies and music.
We don’t expect discretion, let alone integrity, from
the likes of John Terry and Rihanna. We
ought to expect both from the chief executives of Barclays and JP Morgan et al.
If integrity is too much to ask – and I’m bound to say
it isn’t – then a modicum of discretion would seem in order.