There was an old smoothie who looked like he'd sell you a pension plan without you realising it, he was Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority. There was Hector Sants with a scoured complexion and a feral manner just below his boardroom demeanour, he's the chief executive. And a pleasant-looking woman who didn't say anything much at all. She was in charge of "conduct".
They had come in front of the Treasury committee to talk about their report into the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Hector Sants talked a lot. He used "silo" as an adjective. The previous regime conducted itself "in a very silo manner". He had improved it enormously. Quality. Quantity. Less silosity. But nothing could have prevented the collapse. Pat McFadden asked whether he had agreed RBS had "sufficient capital reserves" for its ruinous takeover of ABN Amro. Wow, did that set him off. On and on he went, answering all sorts of questions, leaving aside only the one he'd been asked.
He assured us that Sir Fred Goodwin "would never work again in a regulated industry". But he found himself declaring that he was correct in his assessment of the pre-takeover position of RBS's capital threshold.
"So, you are utterly blameless with nothing to regret or to have done differently," Andrea Leadsom suggested. He resisted that proposition but you could tell his heart wasn't in it.
People like this can talk their way through anything. We fall for it every time. When Lord Turner talked about the need to assess "macroprudential systemic risk" no one hurled rotten fruit at him. As if the Santses and Turners could! As if they can! The same collapse could happen at teatime today and the mandarins would still be purring away.
One thing is clear from what we heard them saying. Regulation is a poor, weak thing compared with the risk of personal ruin – losing EVERYTHING – if bankers' bets go wrong. And that's a question of ownership, not regulation.Reuse content