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Before the story broke, I barely knew the meaning of Liber Rates. Now, deep into resignation country, where the titans of British banking are falling like… Well, I’d say dominoes but that doesn’t seem apt, unless they’re diamond encrusted dominoes, made from the rarest ivory taken from the last tusk of the hairy mammoth. Yet in whatever manner the fall, the most shocking aspect of this Libor fixing scandal is the extent to which people are shocked that the banks have been playing unfairly.
That’s the problem with thinking about banks. We retain the last vestiges of the Victorian sense of banking, where thickly bossed doors open onto marbled shrines to commerce, industry, and Empire. I think of old men with large chin whiskers, pulling at their fobs and checking their watches against the great golden clock in a lobby, populated by dozens of bank tellers, each one an identical copy of T.S. Eliot. Yet perhaps The City was already changing when he wrote his poetry from a bank. In The Waste Land, he writes of:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Such is London but such is The City, unreal and now always in fog. The problem of banking and bankers, is that it attracts too many men who fix their eyes only at their own feet. The fronts of the buildings are now made entirely of glass but the business has become far less transparent. These are the bastards who arbitrarily impose fines on their customers on a whim and who are entirely without shame should the error occur on their side of the bullet proof glass. I wonder how Nat West and RBS would have responded had a customer explained that they couldn’t pay their bill because of a computer glitch. Would they perhaps waive bank charges during the delay? Or would they be rubbing their hands together and booking another holiday in the Seychelles?
Bob Diamond was apparently one of the greats of modern banking. I’m not sure what this means, though it reminds me of that excellent film ‘Margin Call’. Bob Diamond, I would assume, would be in the Jeremy Irons role. It means that somebody, somewhere, Kevin Spacey is burying a dog this morning and weeping about the sorry state of a once great profession.