A few months ago the Government saw great opportunity in the proposed tanker driver strike. The word from Tory Central Office (we know this because it was all over the newspapers) was that the Government saw the dispute as a potential ‘Thatcher Moment’ when the Government rallied the general public around a foe that threatened the economic prosperity of the country and defeated it, just as the Lady had with the miners. Francis Maude was duly sent out with the advice that we should all stock up on petrol by filling jerry cans, just as the Thatcher Government had stockpiled coal. We all know how it ended.
My feeling at the time was that the Government was fighting an old battle. Much has changed since the long summer days of 1984. The Public & Commercial Services Union went on strike over outsourcing of jobs on Monday, did you notice? I suspect not because three separate tranches of legislation, the Prior Act, the Tebbit Act and the Trades Union Act of 1984 have brought the unions into line, democratised them and left them needing to listen to their members before the shout goes up “everybody out.” If they step out of line the penalties can be ferocious, as the miners found out.
So where should the Government look if it wants a ‘Thatcher Moment’? News comes this morning of another powerful pressure group who threaten the economic prosperity of the country. In fact this pressure group has already been bailed out once by the public to the tune of hundreds of billions.
One suspects that Barclays £290 million fine levied by both the Financial Services Authority in London and the regulators in the United States for manipulation of interest rates is just the tip of the iceberg. If RBS, HSBC etal get sucked into this then the entire integrity of UK banking and LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate), which is used to fix mortgages amongst other financial instruments across the globe, will be called into question.
I could go over, once again, all the arguments for dealing with the bankers, including the ‘too big to fail’ argument, bonuses, lending to small businesses, the rebuilding of balance sheets with QE money, but why bother? All you need to do is Google any of Mervyn King’s, the Governor of the Bank of England’s comments over the last few years to see how worried he still is.
I have no doubt that the bankers will want to position this as a victimless crime, but somebody, somewhere is always holding the dumb money. If it is found that it is the general public, among others, who have been screwed over once again this story has the capacity to make the leap from the business pages to the front pages.
If Cameron wants a ‘Thatcher Moment’ which cuts through to Joe Public or Worcester Woman, this morning it is staring him right in the face!