Alistair Darling feared the bank chiefs at the heart of the financial crisis were "so arrogant and stupid that they might bring us all down".
In his memoirs, the former Chancellor delivers a damning verdict on the leadership skills of the most senior figures in the High Street banks that had to be bailed out at the cost to the taxpayer of £50bn.
According to a leak from his forthcoming book published by the Labour Uncut website yesterday, he is withering about the attitude displayed by Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, to the emergency.
Mr Darling complains that Sir Fred behaved as if he was "off to play a game of golf" rather than confronting the threat of a collapse in the banking sector. He even says that "Goodwin deserved to be a pariah" when he later refused to reduce his pension payments after being forced to resign.
Mr Darling accuses Andy Hornby, the former chief executive of HBOS, of "looking like he was about to explode" when confronted with the gravity of the crisis that had developed under his leadership. Mr Darling writes: "My worry was that they [the bankers] were so arrogant and stupid that they might bring us all down." He also complains that bank chiefs uniformly showed a shocking ingratitude for the massive rescue package that kept their businesses afloat.
Mr Darling blames Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, and Adair Turner, the head of the Financial Services Authority, for their part in failing to avert the crisis. Earlier this year Mr Darling disclosed that people were only two hours away from being unable to withdraw money from British banks during the crisis in October 2008.
He said the near-collapse of RBS would have spread quickly to other banks if the government had not rushed out an emergency rescue package.
"We were at the stage where in a very short period of time, one of the world's biggest banks would have to shut the door and switch off the electricity," he said.
Labour Uncut said he claims Mr Brown's closest lieutenant, Ed Balls, ran a parallel Treasury operation within Whitehall while Mr Darling was Chancellor. Yesterday attempts by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, to focus on the state of the economy were disrupted by Mr Darling's claims.Reuse content