Simon English: Rest assured, the chaps will pick the right man

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The Independent Online

Outlook In "A Conflict of Interest", the 12th episode of Yes, Prime Minister, Jim Hacker is in a pickle as usual.

A City scandal is raging and he wants to be seen to be doing something about it. He also needs to pick a new Governor for the Bank of England.

A major City firm called Phillips Berenson has gone bust due to dishonest activity. Even worse, the grand old Bartlett's Bank is in trouble because it lent so much money to Berenson. They seemed "decent chaps", is the explanation given by Bartlett's chairman, Sir Desmond Glazebrook who wants the Prime Minister to bail out the bank using taxpayer money.

Hacker's favoured choice to be the next Governor is Alexander Jameson, a man known for scrupulous integrity. Unfortunately, he would certainly want a full investigation into Berenson, which would exposing Bartlett's and much else along the way.

This, the PM is persuaded, would be bad for confidence, bad for business and bad for the City.

The consensus is that Sir Desmond is an idiot, although he seems smart enough to get the gist of banking: it's a bunch of chaps looking out for themselves, and it would always be a mistake to rock the boat.

An exchange with the civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby about the culture of the City goes like this:

Sir Desmond: "If you're incompetent you have to be honest, and if you're crooked you have to be clever. See, if you're honest, then when you make a pig's breakfast of things the chaps rally round and help you out."

Sir Humphrey: "If you're crooked?"

Sir Desmond: "Well, if you're making good profits for them, chaps don't start asking questions; they're not stupid. Well, not that stupid."

Sir Humphrey: "So the ideal is a firm which is honest and clever."

Sir Desmond: "Yes. Let me know if you ever come across one, won't you."

Sir Desmond is appointed the next Bank of England Governor. It's complete fiction, remember.