Nothing can touch Mr Smug and Mr Smooth

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The Independent Online
Let's call them Mr Smug and Mr Smooth. On second thoughts, why beat about the bush? We are talking here about John Manser, chief executive of Robert Fleming, and Michael Dobson, chief executive of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell. Both lord it over organisations which have recently been linked with scandalous financial crookery, rat trading in Hong Kong for Robert Fleming, and fraudulent misuse of other people's money in the case of Morgan Grenfell.

Both have been grovelling in their apologies and contrite in the extreme over what occurred. And yet both of them are still there. Others with equally little idea of the thievery going on beneath their noses, and yet line responsibility for those directly to blame, have meanwhile been thrown to the wolves. Five of them went yesterday at Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, including the likeable Keith Percy, its chief executive. Three have already gone at Robert Fleming.

They may or may not have deserved their fate. But what of Mr Smug and Mr Smooth? What are they still doing there? And why is there still no evidence of root and branch reform in the organisations they manage? The simple answer to these questions is that neither of them heads up publicly quoted companies. If they had, they would have been gone by now. Robert Fleming is still privately owned and largely family controlled. Morgan Grenfell is part of Deutsche Bank. So both have been shielded from the full force of accountability and responsibility.

No doubt each of them did the honourable thing and offered to fall on his sword - or that is what the spin doctors would have you believe anyway - but were eventually prevailed upon to suffer the burden of office and salary a little longer, so as to sort out the mess and provide continuity. There is scant evidence of anything changing very much, however. Despite the clearouts, there are no new brooms to sweep away the old, and presumably rotten, culture. The management clearout has involved little more than a reshuffling of the pack.

Nor has either Mr Dobson or Mr Manser been able to offer any kind of credible explanation for what occurred. Mr Dobson has described it as an "isolated incident", as if it were no more than an embarrassing faux pas dropped over dinner with his shooting pals. Mr "I was misquoted" Manser, has meanwhile railed against the regulators (don't you just hate them). "Honestly! Why is it that we all have to spend so much time answering to these people," he might have said.

The contrast with the scrutiny our MPs and politicians are now being subjected to could hardly be greater or more revealing. Here is David Willetts, a former whip, hauled over the coals, lambasted, crucified, up before the beak and about to face a public grilling of the most daunting variety, merely for doing his job and writing a memo on how the damage to the Government being wrought by allegations of sleeze might be limited.

Parliament looks like a model of restraint, probity and decency set against the sort of nonsense that was going on at Morgan Grenfell and Robert Fleming. The "offences" complained of are nit-picking by comparison. Are organisations that occupy positions of public trust to be thought so very different from those who hold positions of public service? Clearly so, judging by the way these things are being swept under the carpet. What action regulators are taking occurs behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms.

No wonder those not connected with the City, which is the great bulk of the British population, have come to mistrust it so much. It is not just its salaries and markets that seem to belong to an altogether different world. Its standards of morality, disclosure and accountability appear to have been beamed down from another planet too. And small wonder too that so many of our MPs want to swap the goldfish bowl of politics for the anything-goes environment of the City.

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