Tom Sutcliffe: 'Sensitivity' is the last thing bankers care about

Social Studies: "Banker bashing" is the blunt instrument we wield in the absence of a more intelligently focused one from politicians

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The Independent Online

What an exigently demanding fellow Nick Clegg is. Asked on the Today programme yesterday about the imminent round of bank bonuses – an embarrassment for the Coalition and salt in the wound for victims of the recession – he insisted, in his most caring tones, that the bank executives would "have to be sensitive". And he didn't just say it once either.

The word kept coming back – sometimes with further elaboration. In the light of bailouts, he continued, bankers should show "extra sensitivity and transparency". Good luck with that, I thought. And then I found myself wondering precisely what Mr Clegg meant by "sensitivity". Not too splashy with the celebratory Bollinger? Or simply canny enough to ensure that this year's windfalls coincided with an announcement about easy loans for first-time buyers?

Whatever the case, it seemed a feeble word to use about an issue that arouses so much public anger. And despite the faint perfume of coercion (that phrase "have to") there was nothing in Mr Clegg's remarks to indicate that the Government was going to do anything more forceful than appeal to bankers'better natures.

We already know that the Deputy Prime Minister has a trusting nature – but I can't have been the only person who felt this might be a bit of a lost cause. "Banker's sensitivity" is surely the kind of quality best filed alongside "astrologers' scientific scepticism" or "shock jocks' open-mindedness".

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, is worried about "bankers' sensitivity" in a different sense, warning us against the dangers of "banker bashing". He wants the banks to do more "to demonstrate their social responsibility" but he too appears to believe that hopeful pleading is a better way of going about things than insisting.

And his approach doesn't offer any obvious means of dealing with one of the salient problems here, which is all those bankers who choose to believe that sky-high bonuses (or "globally competitive remuneration" as they prefer to call it) is social responsibility in action. To pay less, they warn us, would mean that the finest banking talent would migrate abroad, diminishing the tax revenues from the investment arms of British banks.

It's a pin-striped form of protection racket ("very fragile economy you've got here, awful shame if anything was to happen to it") – and it's one that the current government seems to have capitulated to without even the mildest kind of resistance. Courageous and unyielding when it comes to cuts in services and increases ingeneral taxation, they appear pliable and ineffectual when it comes to the banks.

David Cameron should realise that that's where "banker bashing" originates. It's the blunt instrument we wield in the absence of a more intelligently focused one from politicians. If scorn and derision are the only instruments available to us to make bankers more sensitive, those are what we will use.

Occasionally you even see evidence that it might be working. Stuart Gulliver of HSBC (which didn't receive a taxpayer bailout) says he feels "uncomfortable" about his remuneration. Excellent. So he should, in any decent society. Sadly he's not typical. And if the best the Government is going to do in the face of most bankers' grotesque and unjustified sense of entitlement is a polite request to behave better, the caricatures and the contempt will continue. Sensitivity isn't enough, frankly. They should wince.

Bowled over by the marketing men



I wonder if Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood will be requesting a refund for their Power Balance Bands, a hologram-adorned rubber wristband which promises to improve athletic performance and which could be seen gracing their wrists in photographs of post-Ashes celebration.

Of course it's not very surprising to find that sportsmen are dimwittedly superstitious – even if it reveals that the national team is a good deal flakier than recent descriptions of stalwart English grit might have us believe. Not very surprising either to find that some enterprising business had found a novel way to exploit human gullibility – that never-failing oil well.

What was slightly unusual in this case is that the people who market the Power Balance Band were recently forced to admit publicly that they had been in the snake-oil business, issuing a statement in the Australian media that read as follows: "We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974". Disgruntled customers were offered a refund. So, will Strauss be asking for his money back – or will he and his team-mates simply replace them with this year's fashionable rabbit's foot?





Ye schoolboy error



I loved Jim Naughtie's series of Radio 4 programmes about the creation of the King James Bible, but was startled to hear an actor in the second episode reading out an account ofthe heroic scholarship of John Reynolds, a member of the Oxford translating committee who, despite suffering of "ye gout... and of ye colic... failed not to be present ever on ye translating days with ye rest".

The "ye"s in this quotation were pronounced phonetically, as they would be if you were to read out the name of Ye Olde Castle Tea Shoppe. But, as any vaguely bookish schoolboy should know, the 'y' in genuinely historic texts is actually a vestigial thorn – a substitution for an Anglo-Saxon letter representing the 'th' sound. Nobody ever said "ye" except when they meant "you".

The programmes deserve an early repeat but not, I hope, before this uncharacteristic blot on Radio 4's scholarship has been corrected. It's ye least yey can do.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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