James Moore: City suits laugh at the law while hoodies get their collars felt

Outlook: The regulators simply aren't feared. They are looked upon as 'stupid'
  • @TheIndyBusiness

Justice was severe and even relatively swift for those who set light to the streets of London and other British cities last summer. In contrast, those who burned the British economy and the financial markets, by reckless gambling or by trying to rig the decks (by fixing interest rates) while trading for Barclays, are likely to escape a similar fate if things go to form.

The law isn't quite the same for those who wear a suit as it is for those who wear hoodys, which sends out a terrible message.

Oh the Serious Fraud Office has been called in. But its record in securing convictions is mixed even if its lawyers and accountants feel that there are cases that can be effectively pursued against the Barclays traders.

Which leaves the Financial Services Authority, and its successor, the Financial Conduct Authority. After cases have spent a lengthy time in the long grass, they might get round to handing out a few bans, maybe fines too, on account of the traders having breached its principles. But there's no certainty.

Just about the only person to face any sanction for the banks' near collapse during the financial crisis was poor old Johnny Cameron at Royal Bank of Scotland.

And Mr Cameron, who has proved to be a shade more reflective than his peers in conversations I have had with him, is a rarity: he agreed to the sanction when most would have fought it. As I would expect those traders are preparing to do.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has been calling for a public inquiry into the banking industry without supplying a convincing explanation as to what it would achieve.

A more appropriate line of attack would be to demand a thorough review of the legal framework around this sort of white collar... well it's by no means sure we can actually call it crime. Wrong doing, then.

The Government has promised an independent review to see if its upcoming financial regulation bill needs amending. Does anyone really believe that a few amendments will do anything to prevent a repeat of this sorry affair?.

Part of the problem with British banking is that the regulators simply aren't feared. They are looked upon as "stupid" by battalions of City folk who spend their time dreaming up ways to get around them in the knowledge that, if they do get caught with their pants down, the sanctions they face will be limited and they'll get paid off.

They snigger when they look at their American colleagues, who, when they commit similar deeds, are hauled off to Riker's Island jail in shackles.

Ah yes, the Americans. They're involved in this little affair too, and they've proved very willing to extend their legal system overseas when the mood takes them, making use of a certain lop-sided extradition treaty. Remember the so called NatWest three? And the furore that accompanied America's use of the treaty to reel them in?

All of a sudden we may find ourselves thankful for those arrangements. US capitalism might be red in tooth and claw, but so is the system that polices it – as Barclays' traders may learn to their cost.

Sadly, ours remains, well, just a light touch.

Barclays' new chairman must have weapons

There was much talk yesterday about what an honourable chap Marcus Agius is, having been (so far) the only person to resign as a result of the Barclays scandal.

The trouble is, Mr Agius' move now makes it all but impossible to get rid of Bob Diamond, Barclays' under fire chief executive who was in charge of the business where the dodgy deals were done.

So Mr Agius has granted Mr Diamond a lengthy stay of execution at least until his successor is found and perhaps beyond.

Finding that successor won't be easy. Not only will a senior business figure have to prove they tick the right boxes for the regulators, they will also have to accept they are putting their reputations at risk.

Not to mention the scale of the challenge they face: overseeing the clean up of Barclays' Augean stables while keeping a handle on Mr Diamond, his henchmen, Rich Ricci and Jerry del Missier, and their pals.

So not only does the new chairman need to be a heavy hitter, he needs to have weapons.

These might include carte blanche to appoint some henchmen to counter the over-powerful executive triumvirate. They might also require the bank to break (at least temporarily) with an important piece of corporate governance best practice.

With Barclays in a state of turmoil, and in desperate need of leadership (absent from its executives), discipline and moral compass, the new man should arguably be an executive chairman – at least until the bank is back on an even keel and the necessary reforms have been identified and made to its culture and processes.

This shouldn't become a precedent. There are very good reasons for keeping the roles of chairman and chief executive separate and ensuring the latter is in a non-executive role. The chief executive runs the business, the chairman the board (which is exactly why Mr Diamond should have gone rather than Mr Agius). The latter oversees and acts as a counterweight to the former.

Having an executive chairman can confuse things, arguably putting too much power in his hands and fuzzing the lines on who does what.

So it should be a temporary move. But such is the crisis facing Barclays it might also be a necessary one.