If you or I had done what the banks had done – crashed the economy, thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, taken a huge chunk out of living standards and landed taxpayers with a giant bill – we would probably decide to embark on a long period of silent and humble introspection. But not the banks. The banks don't do silent introspection. And they certainly don't do humility. Instead, they do lobbying.
The push-back from our large financial institutions against reforms designed to make them less likely to blow up and impose massive losses on taxpayers has been indefatigable and shameless. They have deployed a succession of spurious arguments against any official interference in their practices. Mandating higher capital buffers will cut off the flow of lending to the economy. Splitting high street banking from casino investment banking operations will only serve to make financial institutions less safe. Curbs on obscene bonuses will result in a disastrous talent exodus. Forcing banks to lend to small business will lead to crippling losses. All rubbish – all disproved.
Yet the bank lobbying ship sails on relentlessly, afloat on a sea of cash. And as this new timeline of contacts between senior ministers and senior bankers shows, the banks still have a comfortable port in Her Majesty's Treasury.
In a powerful speech last month, Roger Jenkins, a member of the new super-regulator, the Financial Policy Committee, described the banking lobby as "intellectually dishonest and potentially damaging". He concluded: "A profession which should stand for integrity and prudence now supports a lobbying strategy that exploits misunderstanding and fear. I know that not all bankers agree with these tactics. They should stand up and distance themselves quickly. For in pursuing its short-sighted approach, the banking lobby is unwittingly making the case for more intervention in an industry which refuses to reform. Bank lobbies are winning the battles and losing the war. As for bank leaders, they need to lobby less and lead a lot more."
The Chancellor and other Treasury ministers should resolve to spend more time with clear-sighted regulators like Mr Jenkins and less with the likes of Stephen Hester and Bob Diamond.Reuse content