James Moore: Hong Kong has shown the world how to call the banks' bluff

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The Independent Online

Tough on bankers and tough on the causes of bankers. That was the rhetoric in the run-up to the election. Given Labour's supine response to the excess that led to the financial crisis and the worst recession for a generation, it proved a vote -winner. Now reality bites.

The disclosure measures originally proposed by Sir David Walker were actually rather mild. Each bank would simply have to tell us how many people there were in pay bands above £1m. And that was about it. It's not even as if they would have to be named (in the way that directors of even small public companies are).

But as soon as George Osborne slapped down Vince Cable by putting himself in charge of banking policy, the squealing started. The industry's rules must be imposed only with international agreement, while playing Governments off against each other.

Any suggestion by our Government of rules of our own has been met with a threat, either implied or (increasingly) explicit, that if it does anything the banks don't like they'll be off. It's worked too.

Interestingly, one of the loudest proponents of the be-mean-to-us-we're-outta-here tactic has been HSBC. Its shares are listed in Hong Kong as well as London. This means it has to provide details about its five top earners, including disclosing how much they earn via, oh yes, that's right: pay bands. If that looks very much like a unilateral requirement imposed by Hong Kong, its because it is. And it doesn't seem to have damaged the territory's status as a financial centre.

See, Mr Osborne, it can be done. It is possible to call bankers' bluff without resorting to cynical PR stunts like the "Big Society Bank" which, even with £1bn in its coffers, doesn't amount to a hill of beans when we've collectively ponied up nearly £1 trillion of support.

And its worth remembering that She Who Must Not Be Named (Margaret Thatcher) did go it alone, with a windfall tax on the high-street banks. And they are all still doing business in this country.