I’d thought the worst was probably over for bankers. After recent events, I fear I may have been wrong.
A bad week for bankers. For their collective image rather than their pay packets, that is. Just when we thought we’d supped our full of banking horrors, news emerged that RBS and HBOS had been bailed out last year (behind our backs) to the tune of £62bn (that’s half what the NHS costs us annually). Lloyds TSB shareholders, who were not the happiest bunnies in the marketplace, have blown a collective fuse.
I’d thought during the Summer that the worst of the heat may have been off for the bankers; that they were finding a path to redemption and a route back to some sort of acceptance among the public at large. I fear I may have been wrong.
First, there was the weeping sore that is Goldman Sachs – who are currently coining it in and are about to share out in excess of $17 billion in bonuses. After a lot of goading (and being called a blood-sucking squid) they came out and agreed to justify themselves in a long feature that appeared in the Sunday Times magazine. I can’t say that they came over as an especially attractive lot, worshipping 24/7 at the altar of Mammon, but they made their point: we’re the smartest guys in the room, and it was the dummies like those at RBS and HBOS that got you lot into your pitiful mess.
But during the course of this article their boss, Bronx-born Lloyd Blankfein, let slip the suggestion that they were doing ‘God’s work’. This was probably an ironic quip, an aside to show he has a sense of humour. But it has gone down like a cup of cold sick (not least with God himself, I should imagine). Goldman is now incandescent with rage, and will probably never give a media interview ever again. For the first time in years, it’s also refused to publish its annual list of those being promoted to managing director. It used to be a cause of celebration and congratulations – now they probably fear they’d be lynched like those on Sarah’s List of paedophiles.
Then came yesterday’s news that the Supreme Court had ruled that the issue of unfair overdraft charges falls outside the scope of the Office of Fair Trading. The banks had won their battle. Within one minute of the announcement being made, it was the most read story on the BBC’s website – and there were very few people defending the banks.
The public mood is now very ugly. When even dry old sticks like Martin Wolf in the FT feel that a windfall tax on banks is an acceptable punishment, things have got very bad indeed. But it’s hard to see that the bankers are taking any notice. One is quoted in The Times yesterday as saying: ‘We’re not like coal miners, fishermen or politicians. We are indispensable. Without the City, Britain is nothing. It’s in everyone’s interests for us to succeed even if you don’t like us very much.’
Finally comes the Walker report, which is recommending that the banks reveal how many of its employees earn more than a million a year. No names, just numbers. I fail to see the point of this. All it does is whip all those who earn less than a million a year into a fit of jealous indignation. It may well highlight the fact that the gap between bankers and the rest of us who struggle with a bombed-out economy is widening, but where does it get anyone?
I fear a lot more grief is heading in bankers’ directions, as they become whipping boys during an election campaign. Some polls are showing they are currently more unpopular than politicians. That took some doing.