March 6, 2013 11:57 pm

Bankers dodge tomato throwers’ projectiles

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The tomato throwing is over. The stocks have been packed away. And Andrew Tyrie MP, the man in charge of the public pillorying of Britain’s bankers, will now retire to consider the next move for his Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

Lobbing the projectiles for the past six months have been an impressive coterie of figures. They range from the former, but still redoubtable, Tory chancellor Lord Lawson to Justin Welby, plain old bishop of Durham when the commission began, but now as perhaps befits the divine process of judging sinful bankers, elevated to archbishop of Canterbury. All of it under the wry but probing leadership of Mr Tyrie.

Since September 12, Mr Tyrie and his nine fellow commissioners have seen hundreds of witnesses at 73 sessions, heard 161 hours of evidence and posed more than 9,000 questions.

We have learnt a lot about the standards of bankers along the way – spanning Libor manipulation, the mis-selling of payment protection insurance, tax dodging, competition, lending and, of course, bonuses. Whether anything meaningful comes of it remains to be seen. The commission members will spend the next two months thrashing out their conclusions and producing the requisite report.

If nothing else, it has been great theatre.

Some of the witnesses have been on the side of the tomato-throwing commissioners. Sir Mervyn has provided plenty of ammunition, particularly on why banks are not lending. Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman and old man of banking reform, was the stand-out witness on why banks should be restructured to prevent high-street bankers being “infected” by investment bankers’ greed.

The high points of ritual humiliation and contrition included the shaming of former UBS chief executive Marcel Rohner, who admitted to being “shocked and embarrassed” by the Swiss bank’s Libor abuses.

There were shows of defiance, too, much to the commission’s irritation. Sir John Sunderland, the Barclays remuneration chief, won the prize for most unreconstructed bank director with his defence of the bonus paid to former boss Bob Diamond.

Eric Daniels, the former head of Lloyds bank, was also in denial, insisting Lloyds had been “on the side of the angels” in selling PPI, despite today’s £6.8bn compensation bill.

Whatever the report concludes, bankers are praying that their time in the stocks will have helped reconcile politicians and the public to a reforming sector. As one bank boss put it: “We hope it’s a piece of therapy as well as a piece of theatre.”

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