The sight of different divisions of Britain’s Establishment tearing into each other may be entertaining, even amusing, to the great unwashed masses of us excluded by it, but it is hardly edifying and may prove counter-productive.
It all started with politicians attacking bankers after 2008. Then the mainstream media attacked the politicians over their expenses. The politicians took their revenge by setting up the Leveson Inquiry to attack the media. Now the media and the politicians have united to distract public attention by attacking the bankers again.
Most of these attacks are justified, or at least not wholly unjustified – although it now seems the Leveson Inquiry was set up in response to a claim that has been discredited. Politicians, bankers, and journalists in Britain have all behaved badly, and all need to change their operating culture.
However, if such change is to achieve the desired result, it must be considered carefully. Necessary reform does not serve its purpose when taken to unnecessary extremes. While it would be in the public interest to purge our current political class, our system of constitutional democracy must be viewed as the means to that end, not an obstacle to it. Equally, a general improvement in the ethics of reporting is not achieved by restrictions on freedom of the press.
As for banking, there is no doubt that the sector would be strengthened by greater transparency, by improvements to corporate governance, and by a more effective system for the redress of customer complaints. The problem is that these are not the issues being discussed in the current witch-hunt atmosphere, in which public, or at least political and media, attention seems fixated on the subsidiary issue of the remuneration packages of senior executives.
The hounding of Bob Diamond, Chief Executive of Barclays until last week, missed the point entirely. His position had indeed become untenable, but that was no cause for rejoicing. He was one of the good guys in 2008 and a force for stability in the current, politician-generated crisis. The British economy and the global banking sector are both weaker for his departure.
Like all entrepreneurs, we have our own bank horror stories, so it is hard for us to admit this, but we need the banks. They were a major factor in the extraordinary economic development of the West over the last 300 years and remain an essential component of our best hope for a satisfactory conclusion to the present turbulence. The banking sector is disproportionately important to the British economy in particular. The politicians and media need to show that they appreciate this, because, if Britain does not want the bankers, there are other countries that do.