Julian Knight: Why shoot the media when you can't miss banks?
Sunday 08 February 2009
It may not be most people's idea of fun, but I actually like meetings of the Treasury Select Committee – well some of them at least. They have provided some good knockabout stuff. The MPs on the committee are really in their element when a banker (preferably American) comes blinking in front of them trying to defend the often indefensible.
Often, the MPs hold their own competition to see who can think of the best soundbite to get on the television news. Some go further and bring their own props – such as a letter from a constituent threatened with having their first-born seized and auctioned if they don't pay off their overdraft or credit card debt.
After an hour or so of facing MPs' indignation, the suitably humbled bankers agree to supply more information to their customers before fleecing them – or to "improve transparency", as committee chairman John McFall loves to say. In short, something that costs a couple of hundred grand can be dumped on the marketing department and no one reads it. The media love the process because it's easy meat, while the politicians get to appear to care about things that don't involve their own expenses.
However, last week's committee meeting with some of the masters of the business journalism universe was less knockabout, more waste of time.
For a start, the MPs seemed a bit star-struck to have such luminaries as BBC business editor Robert Peston in front of them – men they might, after all, need to cosy up to in future.
And when they did eventually get to the nitty-gritty – that reporting of the banking crisis had been over the top and helped spark the run on Northern Rock and the subsequent collapse in other banks' shares – they were on to a loser straight away.
The journos had them for breakfast. After all, they are not a group of dissembling bankers; their job is about the truth. The MPs simultaneously accused them of over-reporting the crisis and not reporting it enough. It was embarrassingly confused. They ought to stick to beating up the bankers; there are plenty of potential new victims out there.
Stone cold on the Rock
Northern Rock is back in the mortgage market, offering a host of new deals. The big idea of paying back the state's multi-billion-pound loan in double-quick time has been put on ice as the Treasury looks to use the Rock to kickstart the UK home loan market. But as we report on pages 88 and 89, look closely at the nationalised bank's deals and they are a long way from being best buys.
For many people, what's more, the Rock is a broken brand, always to be associated with greed and incompetence. And since nationalisation it has been over-zealous in chasing debtors and raising rates to arm-twist borrowers into remortgaging, so cash can be freed to pay the Government. That's hardly covering itself in glory.
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