Sean O'Grady: Osborne's City 'friends' may be in for a shock

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George Osborne is not a stupid man, though often underestimated. He and Vince Cable know that nothing would be more damaging to the Coalition parties than a public perception, lovingly nourished by Ed Balls, that they are "The Bankers' Friends". For Cable it would represent the ultimate betrayal of a career built on attacks on the City's bonus culture and "casino banks". For Osborne, it would be seen as a reversion to type for a millionaire Tory Chancellor to cuddle up to his banker mates.

The elite spraying £6bn in bonuses around like so much Bolly, including £9m for the Barclays boss Bob Diamond, at a time of benefit cuts and 750,000 of the middle classes being dragged into the 40 per cent tax band, is electoral poison.

So Osborne pre-empted events, and when Project Merlin is published, it is a safe bet that Osborne will have made sure his lending targets for the banks are more demanding than the ones Alistair Darling imposed. We will see hard cash numbers of about £190bn, rather than relative concepts; a regional bias; and a clear distinction made between gross and net lending.

Thus Mr Osborne will deliver on his pledge last year: "We will not allow money to flow unimpeded out of those banks into huge bonuses, if that means money is not flowing out in credit to the small businesses who did nothing to cause this crash and suffered most in it." His critics dismissed it as windy rhetoric and the bankers thought it a bluff; they may all have underestimated him.

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