Simon English: Diamond ducked and dived – but the MPs were lacking punch anyway
Thursday 05 July 2012
Outlook Here was Bob Diamond doing his humble act. For a global swinging dick, a £100m, breakfast-in-London, lunch-in-Zurich, dinner-in-New York man, this was always going to be a big ask. Mr Diamond reckons the measure of a company culture is how it behaves when no one is looking. Perhaps the measure of humbleness is not how politely you take questions from the Treasury Select Committee but whether you actually answer them.
Respect isn't the same as courtesy; good manners aren't better than a straight reply. Measured and cool, seemingly concerned to be helpful and always seeking out context when "yes" or "no" was required, this was supposed to be the modest, contrite modern banker.
Mr Diamond would have to be a brilliant actor to carry this off. He may be many things, but not that.
According to his testimony, his career involves other people making moves of which he becomes only fleetingly aware. The bold-as-brass takeover of the remains of Lehman Brothers – a ballsy, tough call that subsequently looks like a master stroke – is described as "a decision the board made".
He is in rooms where things happen, but he can't remember exactly what. Behaviour is "reprehensible", but only with hindsight. At the time it is occurring, well, he just never saw it.
The temptation for MPs to grandstand on such occasions is plainly irresistible, but they seemed to miss the bigger picture.
The committee imagined itself to be forensic lawyers with an understanding of the international bond industry. Some of them probably are lawyers who get money markets, but the effect of the approach was sometimes to leave them lost in detail.
That's playing on Mr Diamond's home turf. No one says he doesn't have a brilliant grasp of technicalities, that he isn't extremely good at his job. The question is whether that job serves to act against the interests of most people.
Questions not asked: shouldn't the bank you built be broken up in the public interest? Do you expect to get another multi-million-pound job shortly? How much of your £100m fortune is due to your lucky position as a financial landlord who gets to collect rent the rest of us have no choice but to pay? Without such a direct attack, Mr Diamond was able to prevaricate as desired.
Get to the point, said the MPs. If it suits me, he pretty much replied. Mr Diamond thinks he is much smarter than the politicians. He is right, it is sad to report. They barely laid a full glove on him.
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