A couple of new stories about the financial sector caught our attention this week. The first was the LIBOR scandal – Barclays and other banks deliberately fixing the inter-bank lending rate for profit. Then there was the scandal that banks were forcing them to take out Interest rate protection insurance with crippingly high repayments. Proving yet again, that banking is the business of cowboys.
As is understandable, the public reaction has been one of outrage. While millions of people are struggling with the austerity measures and recession, here are the people who caused the crash cheating their way to wealth and celebrating with bottles of Champagne. Ed Miliband has called for a public inquiry into the corrupt practices of the banks, Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian called for the bankers involved to be punished just like last summer’s rioters (the difference between rioters and bankers is the latter have stolen a lot more). Meanwhile, the chief of Barclays, Bob Diamond, called it “inappropriate behaviour” carried out by “a small number of people”, as he tried to deflect the blame from himself and his company.
What is obvious to most people – even, I suspect the Time and Telegraph readers – is that the banking sector have basically been allowed to do what they want for far too long. Not enough regulation has meant they have been free to bully small businesses and individuals, and not enough control has allowed them to get away with activities that are blatantly criminal. A footballer found guilty of match fixing would be banned from the game and jailed. A public sector worker caught stealing from work would be sacked and prosecuted. Why not punish the bankers responsible as well?
So, the International Hot Air bandwagon returned to Rio for a twentieth anniversary talking shop about the environment. In the end the produced a document called The Future We Want which has been attacked by pretty much everyone with an interest in looking after the planet as not actually doing anything.
While politicians from Ban Ki-moon to Hilary Clinton patted themselves on the back and said, “isn’t this document wonderful” (well, not exactly in those words, but along those lines), environment activists such as Greenpeace and Tearfund said it didn’t actually set out what they are going to do.
Greenpeace were scathing in their criticism of the document;
“We didn’t get the Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported business as usual, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet.”
It’s like they want to be seen to be paying attention to the fact that the world’s finite resources aren’t going to last forever, but don’t actually want to do anything to change their lifestyles. It’s easy to see why Greenpeace have come to this conclusion – it takes ten pages for the document to start a bullet point with something other than a recognition or affirmation, and half-heartedly “encourage” countries to develop green policies. Yes, encourage green policies and job creation – while most of Europe imposes job cuts and austerity on the poor. I can’t really see any of them keeping to that point in the document.
Reading through the document, it’s obvious that the discussions were little more than an academic exercise for the delegates, rather than a serious attempt to actually formulate policies for sustainable development. And it makes me despair for the future that we actually want.
It was interesting reading the twitter reaction to François Hollande’s victory in the French Presidential Election yesterday evening. Those on the Right complained about the high tax rate that he might impose on the rich (fairness is a concept lost on the Right), while Lefties cheered and welcomed M. Hollande as a rejection of the austerity projects being carried out by many European governments at the moment.
Now, I’m not in the position at the moment to determine the exact factors surrounding Nicholas Sarkozy’s ejection from the Elysée Palace, but if you look at the reaction of people across Europe you get the impression that austerity isn’t popular. From here in the UK were the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took a battering in the local elections, to Greece where the radical, anti-austerity parties received a lot of support, to France with Hollande’s victorious, pro-growth campaign.
Surely this spells out to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne that people do not like losing their public services to pay for the mistakes of the financial sector. People are a little angry that their local library has been closed down, while the likes of Vodafone and Goldman Sachs are avoiding paying their multi-million pound tax bills. The Right might say “the people have voted for financial irresponsibility”, but the reality is people are fed up of governments supporting the rich and squeezing the poor.
Is François Hollande’s victory a rejection of Austerity? I hope so.