Simon English: A bank that's about as popular as John Terry

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The Independent Online

For the past 20 years, and perhaps much longer than that, Barclays has been the perpetual naughty child, scrawling abuse on desks, dishing out John Terry-style dead legs and then acting all upset when it turns out no one likes them.

The bank offers John Terry-style non-apology apologies too: "We never done it guv. It wasn't us.'"

Even an edited list of its most recent misdemeanours gives off a strong whiff of something bad.

The FSA is investigating if the bank mis-sold interest-rate protection deals to small businesses. It has set aside £1.3bn to cover claims for mis-selling payment protection insurance. It could face action from global watchdogs for conspiring to fix bank borrowing rates.

Two years ago, it paid £190m to settle charges of illegal dealing with Iran, Libya, Burma and others. Trading with the enemy is rather worse then ripping off customers, but it's all the same to Barclays.

In 2003, the then chief executive Matt Barrett admitted that he wouldn't let his children use the bank's credit cards since the interest rate was so punishing. He didn't, of course, have any problem with selling them to people outside his own family.

And for Barclays, the tax laws seem not to be rules to be obeyed but obstacles to be hurdled. Its approach can be seen as what it can get away with; doing the right thing simply never seems to enter the equation.

Indeed, it's quite reasonable to reach the conclusion that's its business model is a three-pronged affair: flog rubbish to as many people as possible; pay a fine if caught; carry on. That it is involved with so many shenanigans is partly a function of its size, but also surely of its personality.

Like Terry, it expects to misbehave and then come over all hurt, to act as if it were the injured party.

In January 2011, the present chief executive Bob Diamond said it was time for banks to stop apologising for their behaviour, a shock to those of us still waiting for them to start. Genuine contrition would involve a change of behaviour.

No one should hold their breath, but it could start today at an annual meeting that is going to see an unusual level of shareholder rebellion. Even Barclays may feel it can't brazen its way through the latest complaints about the pay it shells out to top executives. Two of the staggering figures involved go like this. Bonuses: £2.15bn. Dividends to shareholders: £750m.

The breaking point for the company may be that it has now moved on from legging over customers to legging over the bank's business' owners. Until it does a genuine volte face on all this, Diamond's view of himself as a brilliant and worthy banker, will remain as absurd as John Terry's view that he's a popular guy in the England dressing room.