Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Shocked, shocked to find greed among bankers

A WONDERFUL moment in that great movie Casablanca is when the police chief, played by Claude Rains, is ordered to close down Rick’s café. The chief walks into Rick’s, where he is a regular punter, and declares himself “shocked, shocked to find gambling in this establishment”.
It must be in much the same way that chancellor George Osborne and Bank of England chief Mervyn King have been shocked by the “culture” of bankers who manipulate interest rates for their own advantage.
There is, this time, some justice in the government’s repeated refrain that the previous government is to blame. It is at least partly the fault of Gordon Brown, when he was chancellor, that the big "casino” banks were freed from proper regulation. Though I didn’t notice the Tories hurrying to put that
right when they came to power in 2010.
And the “culture” dates back at least to the nasty, greed-is-good, loadsamoney Thatcherite 1980s.
There is a delicious irony too in a prime minister born into a rich family of stockbrokers accusing Brown of being too soft on bankers. Conservatives, to all intents and purposes, accusing an allegedly
Labour government of not being socialist enough.
I shall leave it to others better qualified than I am to try to explain exactly what Barclays, and probably others, have been up to. How exactly they have been ripping all the rest of us off.
The fact that it’s hard to understand, that it is made deliberately complicated, is part of how they’ve managed to get away with it for so long. Whatever “it” is exactly.
I’m not qualified to know whether “it” is actually illegal, though it seems pretty clear that it should have been. And if not actually illegal, then it was surely immoral, coercing millions of ordinary folk into funding the traders’ champagne lifestyles.
But setting aside the obscurities and complexities of the present issue, there are a couple of wider points worth making about banking.
The first is that the very word “banker” has become a dirty word.Which is rough on those who run high-street branches and have done nothing to bring their business into disrepute.
The nice people at my local Britannia branch have no more in common with Bob Diamond or Fred Goodwin than I have with Rupert Murdoch.
The second point I want to make is about those obscene “bonuses” we keep hearing about.
I wouldn’t mind graciously waiving a “bonus” payment this year if I’d trousered £28.5million last year – on top of a salary already several times what the entire staff of a busy corner branch takes home.
If the top brass didn’t get their fabulous riches, we’re told, they’d leave the firm, and the country, and take their precious talents elsewhere.
It sounds a bit like blackmail.
It also sounds like a claim – or threat – to which there ought to be a simple response. One word should be enough.


SO Spain really are a class above the rest, then. Among the next best, the differences aren’t really that huge.
Going out in the quarter-finals by the slenderest of margins in the lottery of a spot-kick shoot-out is exactly par for England at major tournaments. Those they qualify for at all.
To do it with a goalless draw against the eventual finalists isn’t that bad really, is it?
Before Euro 2012 kicked off, and for most of its course, the orthodox opinion was that it was really between Spain and Germany.
In the event Italy, having struggled to a stalemate with England, put Germany to the sword. Until they were awarded a penalty too late to make a difference, the Germans came no closer to breaching the Italian defence than England had – perhaps not as close.
With a fully fired-up striker on board, England might have beaten Italy at what used to be their own counter-attacking game.
It has been traditional, however, for England to take two useless things to the big competitions. Excessive expectation and Wayne Rooney.
This time at least the expectation was dropped. Except that, weirdly, the very lack of expectation was built up as grounds for over-optimism.
Under Fabio Capello England suffered a toxic combination of indiscipline, inter-necine strife and apparent unconcern. In a short time, Roy Hodgson turned all that to sound organisation, togetherness
and commitment.
If he made a mistake it was in trusting too much to Rooney.
We all know Rooney, at his best, is an irresistible talent. Unfortunately, his last good game for England was in 2004. Statistically, they are better without him. He is no Cristiano Ronaldo or Andrea Pirlo.
But if Rooney’s inclusion was a mistake, it was one almost everyone in football would have made.
With what he had available – and by my count, nine players who would have made his squad were absent hurt – Hodgson did well enough. Certainly if your starting point is the abject embarrassment of the last World Cup.
If he could have cured the old psychological complex that afflicts English players in the shoot-out – one win in seven attempts is the worst record in world football – we might even have had some cause to celebrate. Until we met Spain, anyway.

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