“You know the chap in the glasses and the swimming trunks who goes down the really long waterslide in the Barclaycard ad?” said the chairman of the impenitently-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we enjoyed a pint or two of Odd Use For A Pint Glass at The Jiggling Piglet. “Do you think that it’s Jeremy Tigue in a curly wig?”
“I can see what you’re saying and it’s an interesting thought,” I replied. “But it doesn’t seem terribly likely.
“Now … were you planning on basing today’s entire conversation around the off-chance that F&C’s head of global occasionally moonlights as a stunt waterslider while wearing a curly wig?”
“Why?” said the chairman. “Have you got a better idea?”
“Oh, I really, really hope so,” I replied. “For a start, after reviewing my notes of our meetings over the last 12 months or so, I thought we might talk about how there are more mentions of the Treasury Select Committee over that time than in the whole of the previous 10 years put together. Why do you think that might be?”
“I hate to state the obvious,” said the chairman. “But do you think it might possibly be because I happen to have appeared in front of the Treasury Select Committee more times in the last 12 months than in the whole of the preceding 10 years?”
“Thank you – I think I managed to get that far all by myself,” I said. “But I can’t help feeling something deeper can be drawn from this. You see, while the various members of the committee do rather seem to have enhanced their collective reputation as a bunch of hard cases over the last few months, that image all seems to stem from a serious case of door-shutting after a whole Grand National of horses have done a Harry Houdini.
“A few years back I used to receive a regular notification of all the hearings the committee would be conducting and, while there were a good deal more than one might initially think, the subjects were – with the exception of ‘Why Chris Fishwick must be made to stand on the naughty step’ – really quite dull. So, if memory serves, they would meet for ‘a bit of a chat with the credit card industry’ and to discuss ‘Should the euro be spelt with a big or a small E?’ and maybe to have an occasional swing at someone like Equitable Life when the lack of redress for policyholders moved from embarrassing to basically unacceptable.
“Now of course it’s ‘Why bankers’ mothers work down the docks’, ‘Does Terry Wogan really have more banking qualifications than Goodwin, McKillop, Stevenson and the little one combined?’ and even ‘Could the FSA have spent a little less of the last 10 years writing consultation documents and a little more stopping people from destroying the economy?’ It all seems so very after-the-fact.
“So the committee finally decides to have a chat with the FSA and by all accounts may even have given Lord Turner a couple of Chinese burns and a wedgie. But where were they five years ago when they might actually have made an impact monitoring and challenging rather than saving all their energies purely for the post-match blaming.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for blame. Blame the banks for insane business practices. Blame the hedge funds for, well, pretty much doing their jobs. Blame the regulators for fiddling while the City burnt. Blame the government for letting this all go on without saying a word while happily pocketing the tax revenue. Blame the great British public for their borrowing incontinence.
“Hey, even blame the journalists for either not focusing enough on the whole business or for focusing too much but too negatively – take your pick – for, however you slice it, the ones who are to blame for the credit crunch and its consequences are … everybody. So it might be nice if one day the members of the Treasury Select Committee took turns to appear before each other. Still, what do you think?”
“What do I think?” the chairman replied. “On reflection, I think I’d quite like a really long waterslide.”