So Osborne, we now learn, is determined to sell off RBS and Lloyds before the election to prevent Labour, if it wins the next election which looks increasingly likely, from keeping them in the public sector and breaking them up in order to reconstruct them as agents to drive a national economic recovery. That says it all about the government’s priorities. It is more important to them to privatise everything they can in pursuit of their real objective of a fully marketised State rather than to compel these banks, of which the taxpayers own 82% of RBS and 39% of Lloyds, to prioritise lending to industry to kickstart the economy and get growth going at last. Even more significantly, an enforced sale before the election will at their current share value lose taxpayers £24 billions! That is truly staggering when Osborne has been prepared to cut £18bn from benefits plus a further £81bn from public services in the name of unavoidable austerity. Yet at the same time he is now disposing of assets which will gratuitously lose the public coffers £24bn. Privatisation ideology trumps hardship for the poorest.
It’s not as though the sell-off is a sensible policy anyway. To put the banks back in place where they caused the biggest financial crash for a century which is forcing the national debt up to astronomic level of £1.4 trillion by 2015-6 is, frankly, criminally irresponsible when almost no safeguards have been put in place to prevent a recurrence. The proposed Vickers commission’s so-called ‘Chinese Walls’ separating retail from investment banking is flawed by the risk of regulatory arbitrage and and will be got round in no time by the grossly overpaid lawyers and accountants in the City of London. The capital adequacy ratio has been watered down, after heavy lobbying from the banks, to a dangerously inadequate 3%. And the international Basel III rules for banks, which again are unduly weak, won’t come into operation till 2019 which is far too late.
In addition, to return to a banking structure which is so hopelessly dysfunctional and serves the national interest so badly is really absurd. The banks need to be weaned off their present predilection for property, overseas speculation, tax avoidance and derivatives, not not given the green light to continue with their greed as before. What Britain really needs is not an over-dominant Big Five banks controlling 85% of all domestic accounts, but instead a series of smaller, specialist banks focused on the regions, infrastructure, small businesses, investment for a low-carbon economy, science and innovation, and housebuilding and mortgages for low-income households.