Here’s a word that should be in all our dictionaries but probably isn’t: ‘MAXWELLISATION’.
It refers to a procedure in British governance where individuals who are due to be criticised in an official report are sent details in advance and permitted to respond before publication. The process takes its name from the late newspaper owner Robert Maxwell, who fell off a yacht after stealing the Mirror Group’s pension fund.
Maxwellisation is how the irresponsible bankers who caused the economic recession, out of which some of us have just climbed according to the latest figures, are likely to get away Scot (and the word is used most definitely in reference to the land north of England) free.
Current folk wisdom has it that most of us are still unhappy about the banking crisis. We want to see heads roll.
This is a serious headache for the Coalition government, according to Private Eye (issue 1371, p33: ‘Call to inaction’) – because almost nobody involved in that fiasco is likely to suffer the slightest inconvenience.
They really are going to get away with it because the government of the day really is going to let them.
It seems that Andrew Green QC has been hired to find out whether action could and should be taken against those who bankrupted HBOS, beyond corporate lending chief Peter Cummings, who has already been banned for life from the industry and was fined half a million pounds in 2012.
That might seem a lot of money but the HBOS crash, along with that of the Royal Bank of Scotland, cost the taxpayer £60 billion (along with who-knows-how-much in interest payments).
Mr Green has also been asked why HBOS chief executives James Crosby and Andy Hornby were untouched, along with chairman Lord Stevenson.
For the facts, he need look no further than what happened with RBS, the Eye reckons.
In 2010, the Financial Services Authority – discredited forerunner to the FCA – allowed (allowed!) RBS’s top investment banker Johnny Cameron to ban himself from another senior banking job. The following year it pronounced chief executive Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin and chairman Sir Tom McKillop effectively blameless. Mr ‘The Shred’ was stripped of his knighthood, however.
This whitewash appears to have been an embarrassment for business secretary Vince Cable, who announced in December 2011 that he wanted to prosecute, disqualify as directors or ban from the financial sector those responsible at RBS and passed his request for disqualification up to the Scottish law officers in early 2012.
He is still awaiting an answer, it seems.
Back to HBOS, where Cable has made “similar disqualification noises”, according to the Eye, after a “highly critical” report from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards last year.
Unfortunately for him, not only is HBOS also based in Scotland, so any proceedings may have to follow a similar path to those involving RBS, but also the FCA’s report into the bank’s failure is currently “unfinished”.
This is because it is being “Maxwellised” – according to the Eye, “whereby lawyers for those in the frame (if allowed) remove anything critical of their clients”.
The report continues; “With RBS, ‘Maxwellisation’ took several months and resulted in the whitewash that made any future action against those found not guilty difficult, if not impossible.
But the public wants heads to roll! Will anybody get what’s coming to them?
According to the Eye, the answer is a qualified “yes”.
Only one boss of HBOS still has links with any organisation regulated by the FCA – James Crosby is a director of the Moneybarn sub-prime car finance group and its parent, the Duncton Group. The FCA took over regulation of the consumer loan industry in April and has until December 2015 to provide full approval to the Moneybarn operation. The Eye states: “By then chairman Crosby would have to pass its ‘fit and proper’ test. He is completely unauthorised. So, a low-hanging scalp.”
Beyond that, expect “a wringing and washing of Coalition political hands, blaming legal loopholes, failures of others and it-was-all-a-long-time-ago”.
It is possible that other directors could be offered the Johnny Cameron deal – agree not to be a director for a few years “and this will all go away quickly and cheaply with no public hearings”.
Cable – along with George Osborne, David Cameron and any other Coalition MP who claimed that they were making laws to ensure the bankers responsible would face prison sentences – will simply walk away from the whole affair and hope that you forget about it.
Are you going to let that happen?
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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