Friday, 29 June 2012
Too big to jail?
I attended the BBC Reith Lecture 2012 last night delivered by the provocative right wing historian Professor Niall Ferguson. More than 200 of us gathered in The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's self proclaimed 'National Academy.' The Ayrshire born and Glasgow educated Harvard Professor was delivering the fourth in a series of Reith lectures on the theme 'The rule of law and its enemies.' We listened politely as the show was taped for BBC Radio Four and our guest assailed us with a series of spurious claims long favoured by the far right that insist 'society is coming apart' . And Ferguson repeatedly quoted his hero the philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville arguing 'the state is the enemy of civil society.' Based in his Harvard ivory tower, Ferguson is nowadays happiest when evangelising for the madcap Tea Party. Like so many right wing immigrants to the US Ivy League he now despairs at the British Conservative Party, and not just its emaciated Scottish manifestation. They are just not right wing enough for him any more. Our Glasgow Academy allumni and Magdalen College Oxford graduate is an unashamed elitist snob. And his oft repeated Orwellian mantra revisited throughout the evening chimed repeatedly 'private good, public bad'. 'The best institutions in the British Isles today' insisted Ferguson are 'our private schools'. How he must love Edinburgh then the private school capital of Britain, with one quarter of all our pupils attending one of 'too few private schools'. But disappointingly for the ever attentive audience Professor Ferguson uttered not a single word on the astonishing news of the day, that our country's private banks - Barclays Bank in particular - in their roles as self appointed 'masters of the universe' had been found guilty of defying 'the rules of law' and manipulating the financial system's crucial inter-bank LIBOR rates. Our Professor of provocation gave this 'enemy of the rule of law' no mention whatsoever, far less condemnation. His hour long talk on the collapse of civil society had nothing to say about this latest manifestation of unregulated free market greed. And let's face it our disappointment was profound as it's not as if there is nothing to say. The £300m fine for example from the toothless Financial Services Agncy is chicken feed for Barclays. CEO Bob Diamond could pay that out of his own pocket. But he won't. No, his utterly predictable response was to offer to forego his bonus this year. This is, as he is about to learn, nowhere near good enough.The calls to set up an enquiry like the Levenson one into press ethics are similarly too little and too late. No, its time to send a far stronger message to these 'masters of the universe'. In order to clean out these 'stables' repeat offenders like Diamond and his counterpart at RBS Stephen Hestor must not be allowed to blame their subordinates and feign ignorance. They should be sent to jail. This industry is riddled with corruption and immorality. Honesty and integrity are clearly alien concepts for Britain's banking sector. The greed, nepotism and corruption at the heart of it all demands those at the top must be held to account and the strongest possible message is sent that the long delayed clean up begins now. Otherwise the financial elite will continue to believe, as Niall Ferguson already does, that the rules that apply to the rest of us somehow bypass the finacial sector and they believe they are 'too big to jail'.