Who's to blame: the bankers, regulators or politicians?

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The Independent Online

The Bankers

Case for the prosecution Greed, symbolised by vast bonuses for taking unacceptable risks with other people's money and futures, destroyed the livelihoods of many far removed from Wall Street and the City of London. Even as the suffering continues and they have had to be rescued by the taxpayer, they carry on with lavish lifestyles and business as usual. Now they won't even lend to small businesses.

Case for the defence Bankers are no more genetically greedy than, say, politicians, journalists or vets. The world was content when they were generating wealth and paying huge amounts in tax. They are not being bloody-minded now, all they're doing is trying to build up their capital, just as the public demand, but to do that they have to lend less. Besides, lots of householders and firms want to save, not borrow.

Verdict: Not guilty A shock verdict, but the duty of government is to prevent people misbehaving. Like speeding drivers, we needed to stop bankers doing themselves and others harm when they followed their natural instructs.

Gordon Brown

Case for the prosecution Presided over a huge credit bubble. His hubris was fuelled by an apparent belief in his own propaganda that he had abolished "boom and bust". He spent too much went the economy was booming, and ought to have followed the esprit of his own fiscal rules and saved up during the (unsustainable) explosion in tax revenues.

Case for the defence OK, he might have overdone things in the boom, but no one saw this one coming. Besides, he led the G20 into agreeing a global programme of tax cuts and public spending that prevented the recession turning into a 1930s-style slump. Even now his reputation rides high in the US and elsewhere abroad. He may yet be proved right that the emergency Budget may scupper the recovery.

Verdict: Guilty For his leadership in the G20 he should be forgiven much, but he clearly made mistakes.

Mervyn King

Case for the prosecution Like the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority, though with more excuse, the Bank failed to see the coming crisis, or least to do anything about it. Financial stability was the Cinderella arm of the Bank, less sexy and fun than monetary policy (well, we are talking about central bankers here). Botched the rescue of Northern Rock. Failed to cut interest rates when the recession loomed in 2008.

Case for the defence The Bank wasn't responsible for regulating Northern Rock, and the main task of ensuring financial stability fell to the FSA, which spent all its time box-ticking. Also, ministers wouldn't listen to the Bank when it was warning about the credit boom, and the Bank lacked the tools to stop the boom getting out of control. The public and MPs would have gone nuts if they'd raised rates and pushed the economy into recession because house prices were soaring.

Verdict: Suspended sentence Let's see how Mervyn gets on with his new powers over the whole scene.

George Osborne

Case for the prosecution During the crisis he got every important call wrong, including opposing the nationalisation of the busted banks and the fiscal stimulus. Also wrong about the Bank of England's programme of printing money, which the Tories said was inflationary and they would stop. Worst of all the emergency Budget has wrecked confidence and the recovery.

Case for the defence George has had to pick up the pieces left by Labour's reckless running of the public finances. Without brave action on the deficit we might have had a Greek-style crisis. That would mean soaring interest rates and mortgage bills, more bust banks and even the cashpoints running out of cash. We have been saved.

Verdict The jury's out, but the signs aren't good.

And finally, 10 ways to help the rest of us to get by

Review your mortgage deal Unless you have changed lender in the past couple of years it's likely you're overpaying. Provided you have a fair bit of equity in your property there are some tasty deals out there.

Don't buy a new car Drive a new car off the dealer forecourt and you can lose up to 30 per cent in depreciation in the first year alone. Settle for a nearly new car and take advantage of someone else's mistake

Open a cash ISA UK savers pay millions in tax unnecessarily. Any savings you have should be in an ISA, shielded from the taxman.

Pay by direct debit Savings of around 5 per cent on energy bills are available to those paying by direct debit and not quarterly. Switching supplier may bring bigger savings.

Review your insurance Do you need all the cover you have? Loan insurance, for instance, can be expensive and often providers don't pay if it comes to making a claim.

Packed lunch Taking a sarnie into work rather than heading to the shop can cut your lunchtime food bill by over 60 per cent.

Bundle-up at home Using only one firm to provide your phone, broadband and TV package can save you up to £577 a year according to comparison site simplifydigital.co.uk.

Get a lodger Those renting out a room in their house are allowed to earn up to £4,250 each year tax free.

Fill your cavities Save £90 a year through cavity wall insulation. Fitting energy efficient light bulbs will net you a further £7 a year.

Eat what's in season Buying fresh produce which is grown in the UK right now is cheaper than air-freighted alternatives.

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