The Sketch: Banking cannibals are likely to gorge on us once again

Click to follow
The Independent Online

While we are on the subject of trust, what about the banks? Do we trust them? What do we trust them to do? They've enjoyed the biggest blood sacrifice ever – can we trust them to behave in such a way that we don't have to do that again?

Will they live hereafter a godly, righteous and sober life? Or will they be more that familiar mix of John Terry, Russell Brand and Karakatakataka the Cannibal Queen of Zanzibar? (They gorge on our substance, and suck the marrow from the bones of our wives?)

Lord Turner, our top financial regulator, appeared in front of the Treasury Committee to address this fundamental question of the modern financial services industry. Will banking cannibals once again suck the marrow from our wives, and laugh in our faces as they do so?

He said it was important "to create the ex-ante belief that subordinated debt holders will suffer loss". That sounded suspiciously like a yes.

He went on to talk about "inherent pro-cyclicarities". The suspicions deepened. There's no need to talk like that. It might have meant anything. It might have been a recipe for marrowbone jelly.

Lord Turner had a number of solutions. The ones any normal ignoramus could understand were silly, and so I assumed – perhaps unfairly – were the ones we couldn't.

To stop a boom while it was still booming he was recommending a "macroprudential committee" on which he had placed "maverick economists" in order to "institutionalise intellectual challenge". That's like sending missionaries into the Big Feast armed only with the New Testament printed on sugar paper.

Turner was lofty about the failings of the "free market" but in fact we never saw the free market at work chastising the wrongdoers (by eating them – it's the only thing they understand). The free market would have released their special counter-cannibals. Those characters in private equity are even more bloodthirsty and carnivorous than bankers.

But back to the committee. Andrew Tyrie gave the regulator quite an elegant kicking over his assertion that "the whole financial system had grown bigger than was socially useful". That statement had been modified to "some parts" of the system, and now reduced further to "a case for saying some parts were too large". Turner caused laughter with his finesse: "If parts were swollen the whole would have been bigger."

Yes, he is a master of missionary-speak but it won't be enough. He hadn't been able to control those credit instruments last time and he won't next time. He knows they mutate (sharper teeth and longer nails).

There's five years before we have to think about controlling a boom again, they all felt. But that doesn't solve the immediate and ongoing problem of these mutants continuing to gorge on us.