Politicians must talk regulation

The debate over who or what is to blame for the financial crisis is entering round two. But the answers are dead easy: it's us - no-one forced us to take 120 per cent mortgages on made-up incomes; it's the bankers, who did some very stupid things. But most of all it is the Government - the politicians. Banking is the most heavily regulated industry in the world. If it goes wrong it is because the policymakers failed.

Now we are seeing Messrs Brown, Merkel and Sarkozy banging the bankers' bonuses drum again. Bank bashing is the world's biggest and most unregulated growth industry. Sure, the morality of what and how bankers are paid is of real concern. But in their desperation to ride the populist 'bash a banker' agenda they are entirely missing the point - the real issue is regulation. However, the politicians are reluctant to address it head on, because it is difficult to explain, and anyway shows that they failed before.

The banks are reluctant to engage because it makes their relationship with the Government (sometimes their owner) fraught and, worse, makes their jobs more difficult.

The best the banks can do is to say curbs on bonuses will mean a loss of talent. What talent, one might ask, when it seems the real problem was a lack of talent capable of understanding what was happening before it was too late.

The politicians, of course, have electors to face and they would like to keep their jobs. But they need to sort out their own confusion: we need a strong banking system; the state controlled banks have to be returned to the private sector on terms that benefit the taxpayer. We do, strangely enough, have to pay people to achieve that.

It is time the politicians started to show a bit of leadership on those points. And the (still smug) banks need to get a grip on their own failure to address their shortcomings and tell us what they are doing to fix them. Pigs might fly, on both counts.

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