The newspapers report yet another account of a typical
day in the City of London:
a fresh banking scandal erupts; one more stellar executive bites the dust; a
new official enquiry is launched; the politicians across town compete in displays
of righteous indignation.
It has become a comedy routine – as familiar as the
late Tommy Cooper’s laughable attempts at conjuring tricks.
I say, I say, I say, what’s the difference between
Tommy Cooper and a banker? Tommy knew
what he was doing and only pretended to screw up.
Perhaps we should pass a law requiring every City banker
to identify himself in public by travelling to work wearing a fez. At least then we could anticipate the act
going horribly wrong.
We all have our favourite tricks.
One of the best-loved, and the oldest, is the one
involving the so-called ‘rogue’ trader, who speculates in market instruments that
none of us understands with billions of dollars of the bank’s money – our money
in many cases – and then blames his boss for not paying attention. Then there’s the jolly caper in which lending
officers hand money to house buyers who can’t afford the repayments, and then
try to disguise the fact by packaging the bum mortgages for sale to other banks,
who agree not to ask questions about what’s in the parcel. The latest hoot is the LIBOR fixing …. Well, by
now you know how that worked. You may
even know what LIBOR is.
Tommy knew what made us laugh: he convinced us he knew
what he was doing before he screwed
up. Unlike the supposedly sophisticated
professionals at Barclays, who sent emails exposing for all to see their
collusion in fixing interest rates. The
self-incriminating billets-doux were addressed to recipients identified by such
folksy endearments as “dude” and “big boy” – in one case accompanied by a
promised reward of a bottle of Bollinger champagne. These lovable chumps were probably the same comic
characters who, a few months back, ordered £44,000 of wine during a meal at
Petrus, a Michelin-rated restaurant.
One could never tell what Tommy Cooper might get up to
from one minute to the next. In one act
he even contrived to die on stage.
It has all become too much for one of the show’s leading
producers, Bob Diamond. He’s just resigned
“Just like that,” as Tommy might have said.