Anthony Hilton: Side with bankers at your own risk

It was almost as bad as the Budget last week.

Anthony Hilton: Side with bankers at your own risk

Across the media, commentators, editors and banking correspondents cowered under an email deluge of offers to comment from accountants, lawyers' trade bodies, employers, organisations and consultants.

The occasion was of course the then approaching publication last Monday of the interim report of the Independent Commission on Banking - the inquiry chaired by Sir John Vickers - which had been asked to put forward its ideas on how future systemic banking crises might be avoided. The fact that the report at that point had not been published in no way constrained firms' eagerness to express a view on what needed to be done.

The late Sir Derek Higgs, author of a key report on corporate governance in 2003, said that during the furore his ideas aroused, what surprised him most was how few of those with the strongest opinions had actually read his report. Such events are increasingly seen as opportunities for firms to show they have an opinion, not to make a serious comment.

But the eagerness to pitch into the banking issue could backfire. Tactically it might make sense to get a bit of publicity. But they might have been better off considering whether it was wise to be seen to take sides.

The great mistake made by politicians and the banking industry has been their failure to set up a 'truth and reconciliation' commission in which bankers could have come clean about what they did and why. People may have been appalled, but it would help them to understand what happened and move on.

The problem is that the public has not moved on. Add to this the brutal truth that most of the comments from the lawyers and accountants are nakedly self-serving and the danger becomes evident. Such firms make a fortune out of the current system. Thus their comments almost all boil down to saying that they don't want any fundamental change because that might damage the City's competitiveness. In doing so they line firmly up alongside the banks. That may not be a comfortable place to be.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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