The banking crisis that has plagued the world since 2008 has created figures of unanimous public hatred. The names Goodwin, Hester and now Diamond incite fervent anger and are symbols of a public backlash against the recklessness displayed within the City.
It is not surprising that people will condemn bankers at any opportunity: they provide an outlet for dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, job prospects and general quality of life. Having identifiable figures creates a tangible face to the nation’s nemesis, providing a certain sense of unity to the majority of the population.
…Balls and Osborne traded insults across the Commons…
And yet, it is a scenario that has been fed to the nation by politicians keen to avert any criticism away from themselves, and by the press, keen to gain from explosive but drawn out sensationalism. The polarised state of play has bred a manageable modus operandi for the government: happy to let the public condemn the bankers, while they throw off any criticism by blaming the former Labour government.
But if events of the last week are anything to go by, it is clear that a fundamental shift in attitude is required from the government if there is to be any sense of recovery. It is simply unacceptable that in the wake of the Libor rate rigging scandal, the best response the Chancellor of the Exchequer can manage is a weak and shallow slur at Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor. As Charles Moore made clear in The Telegraph, George Osborne was not wrong to suggest that there are serious questions to be answered by Balls, given that he was minister responsible for the City in 2008; however it is a question of time and opportunity for such potential allegations. The scenes in parliament last week as Balls and Osborne traded insults across the Commons was an absolute disgrace. There was no sense that either of these men had the courage and strength of character to put aside personal disagreements and party affiliations to lead the country out of economic ruin.
Party politics and personal rivalries will get us nowhere.
While public criticism of the bankers is understandable, it is perhaps also unfounded. At no point has anybody in the UK elected a banker to provide representation for the people. They are in no sense accountable to public scrutiny and are only answerable to their board members and shareholders. They play by hostile international rules in which only the fittest survive and, ultimately, contribute a significant amount to the UK’s GDP. That is not to defend the actions of an irresponsible few, but to afford a sense of reality to their position and highlight the fact that the real people who have failed us are those for whom responsible: politicians.
For too long has there been a significant dearth of anyone in parliament willing to stick their head out and fulfil their public duty by standing up for the interests of the British people rather than for an their own career. The Libor scandal is just the latest in a long line of events that prove how badly politicians have failed the British people. When such a story breaks, however, it affords an opportunity to realign political discourse and seek to do something about the situation. Party politics and personal rivalries will get us nowhere. Perhaps it is time some of that public energy and indignation, which has given Goodwin, Hester and Diamond a few sleepless nights, is diverted all the more rigorously onto Osborne, Balls et al? We demand results, and if that means heads must fall; so be it.