Sir Donald Nicholls's High Court ruling on Lloyds Bank's bid for Cheltenham & Gloucester was a masterpiece of which Gilbert and Sullivan would have been proud. He ruled out the bid, and then saved thousands of pounds in lawyers' fees by coming up with an ingenious solution to the barrier he had identified. But the idea that members of a society should become non-members so that other members can sell their membership is the stuff of rainy-day parlour games, not a serious way to decide the fate of a substantial organisation.
The Treasury should give a clear lead: either building societies are to be ring-fenced, beyond the pale of corporate cut and thrust, or they should be free to throw in their lot with other businesses. The present mess is just that, and the attendant uncertainty is a waste of time.