Friday, 19 February 2010

Is it time to start being beastly to the bankers?

Don’t lets be beastly to the bankers has been a quiet refrain in the sometimes fraught national discussion about the economy since Northern Rock hit the wall in 2007, like dentists and tax collectors they may never be our favourite people but they do have their uses. At least that’s what we thought until recently, now most people are moving to a view of a seemingly out of control financial sector that used to be the province of the Socialist Workers Party; meaning outright hostility.

This is almost entirely the fault of the banks themselves, according to figures released by the Institute of Directors on Tuesday 60% of small businesses are still struggling to get credit from their bank. According to the public accounts committee the banks nationalised in late 2008 are particularly reluctant to hand out loans despite having themselves benefited from the biggest payday loan of them all courtesy of the British taxpayer.

Phillip Hammond, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told the BBC this ‘made a mockery’ of government claims to be helping small businesses cope during the recession. Remember when it comes to our financial woes, so the received wisdom goes all roads lead back to the government and its relationship with the banks; too cosy during the good times and far too timid once things started to get a little stormy.

‘The nationalised and semi-nationalised banks’ said Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats, still the popular prophet when it comes to all things related to the economy despite his fumbled ‘mansion tax’ proposals during their party conference, ‘owe their existence to us, the taxpayer and they must make good on their commitments to increase lending at reasonable rates.’

That doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon, not in a week when Barclays, who admittedly never took a penny from the government in 2008 but are still slow to lend, announced a rise in profits of 92% to £11.6billion and plans to pay out £1.5billion in bonuses to staff.

It would be wrong to lay all of the blame for our economic woes on the pinstriped shoulders of the bankers, for every irresponsible lender there must be an equally feckless borrower. You would be hard pressed to make a case for allowing personal debt to continue rising at the rate it did before the crash; but lending to small businesses is different.

The financial services sector has proved to be too unstable a platform on which to build an economy, public services cuts will mean the government itself cannot any longer create jobs to rescue areas that have lost their traditional industries from economic decline, only small businesses can save the day and return Britain to prosperity. To do that they need the banks we all rescued back in 2008 to release the funds they need to grow.

Nobody has the right not to be offended.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has rejected a complaint lodged by the civil partner of the late Boyzone singer Stephen Gatley that an article written about his partner’s death by Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir was offensive.

The article in question attracted 25,000 complaints to the PCC and two made to the Metropolitan Police, it was also the subject of a campaign on the social networking site Twitter.

Giving his ruling Tony Connell of the CPS said that he had considered Article 10 of the Human Rights Act which protect individuals right to freedom of expression saying ‘Though the complainants and many others found the article offensive, but this does not make its publication unlawful.’

The article, in which Moir alleged there was something sleazy about the way Mr Gatley met his untimely death, was indeed offensive, particularly so since it was published only a couple of days after the event. I disagree with every word she wrote, but have to defend her right to write what she did, not least because it is the job of a newspaper columnist to challenge whatever stands for the received wisdom of his or her day.

Freedom of speech and a press free from the shadow of the censor is one of the things that prevents witless prejudice, of which there was no shortage in Ms Moir’s article, from turning into brutal persecution because nobody dares challenge it, for that having to occasionally hear, or in this case read, something we don’t much like is a fair price to pay.

Too many twits make….

Here’s a handy guide for Labour MP’s planning to make use of that new fangled Twitter thingy all the youngsters keep on about to ‘connect’ with the electorate: 1) open a twitter account, 2) then open your, virtual, mouth and 3) swiftly insert both feet into said orifice.

That, anyway, seems to be the advice followed by David Wright who this week got into hot water for describing people who voted Tory as ‘scum sucking pigs.’

Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles described this as ‘not the language you expect from a minister of the crown.’

You can, just about, forgive the likes of Ashley Cole and Vernon Kay for being too dim to realise that in cyberspace everybody can hear you twitter, however tedious of dumb what you have to say might be, but politicians should be a little more worldly, or failing that capable of creating insults that rise above the level of the playground.

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