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Simon Carr

The Sketch: Capital treason charges will sort out the bankers – if burning crosses don't

How anyone knows what's going on is amazing. If of course anyone does. As the banker in front of the Treasury Select Committee put it: "The ability to apply certainty is extremely low."

John Mann usually turns up in Savonarola's cloak to point a burning cross at startled witnesses. Today he inclined towards another sort of totalitarian system by observing dictatorship was quicker than democracy at sorting these problems out.

China, for instance, had denounced financial criminals as traitors. There was probably a death sentence in there somewhere, to help concentrate the mind. If these wretches from RBS and HSBC were under a capital treason charge, would they take so long to reform themselves?

After the crash when they wanted the bailout billions, Mann said, they acted with remarkable despatch; now to separate their investment and high street functions, they're taking the best part of a decade.

And why? It was the bank codes, that was the problem. You know what a nuisance bank codes are? To pull off this separation of functions, this ring fence, "Many customers will need two different accounts," one of the bankers said. And two accounts means two different sort codes. There's 10 years' work in that alone.

George Mudie used bank research to suggest that one in three applicants had been turned down for a loan. The bankers said they were approving 80 per cent of loans. Andrew Love said lending was now negative 5 per cent, and for small businesses negative 10 per cent.

Is this true? "The difference is between the amount of drawn loans and loan facilities committed." In English, businesses have overdrafts but aren't using them, for fear of the future.

And is that true? It could be – and it could equally well be there's another hidden magnet under the table organising the material in a peculiar way. It takes so much hacking to get to the simplest proposition. It's no wonder people just give up and believe what they want.