Peter Cummings (you won’t have heard of him – that’s the point) is, singled out alone, taking the rap for the misdeeds of the whole banking class and their behaviour, arrogant and reckless at worst and severely negligent at the very least, which has impoverished the great majority of British people (virtually everybody except themselves) for the last 5 years and probably for the next 5 years too. Cummings ran the Bank of Scotland corporate division and was the key dealmaker at HBOS when it went on its reckless spending spree. Last week he was handed a £500,000 fine and banned for life from working in financial services. He was not however sent to prison. By contrast, the Home Office Sentencing Council recently set down new guidelines: the sentence for ‘standard’ burglary was increased to 4 years with a maximum set at 6 years, and in the most serious cases of aggravated burglary (where the intruder is carrying a weapon) the sentence was raised to up to 13 years. Cummings, however, who wrecked the lives of thousands of innocent victims, got 0 years. Yet another example in today’s Britain of one law for the obscenely rich and another for everyone else.
But even that’s not the real point. Why only Cummings? Yes, it’s true that Fred Goodwin, the former headstrong boss of RBS, was stripped of his knighthood (what a terrible penalty!) and was forced to forego a small part of his £703,000 annual pension, but why was he not sent to prison? The bail-out of RBS cost taxpayers an initial £45,000,000,000, whilst burglars who steal £4,500 (one ten-millionth as much) are banged up in jail. There were fines for misdemeanours at Northern Rock, but none of the top brass were punished at all. And who decided this? The FSA is preparing a report on what went wrong at HBOS, yet it was the FSA which allowed the disaster to happen by its abject failure of regulatory responsibility.
But what about all the other miscreants? HSBC laundered $19bn for Iran and $7bn in cash for Mexican drug cartels. And it was not just HSBC – US (where was the UK?) federal investigators have accused a dozen or more other global banks. The truth is, banking has become criminalised to a degree that threatens global stability and law enforcement techniques (like the US RICO law which allows the bosses to be collared, not just the underlings) should be deployed against them as they are against other mega-scale organised crime.
Barclays manipulated the LIBOR rate, with adverse consequences for millions across the world, in order to project a false impression of its stability at a time it was being forced to borrow $7bn from the Qataris, and it remains to be seen whether those responsible will be sent to prison – unlikely on the current record of extreme leniency towards Establishment lawbreakers. Even the Queen’s own bank has been found guilty of breaching its money-laundering code.