By Jonathan Weil
After the failure of Northern Rock in 2008 and the British government's subsequent bailouts of Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, a scandal about a bunch of Barclays bankers lying and scheming to manipulate Libor might seem like only more of the same.
Yet to read the pained commentary the past couple of days from some of London's veteran journalists after Barclays agreed to $451 million of fines with U.S. and U.K. regulators, there's something different in the air. The consistent theme in the British press has been shock, disappointment and betrayal. Here are a few snippets:
From the Financial Times editorial page:
"This newspaper does not endorse banker-bashing for its own sake. But if the bashing is to stop, the banks themselves must change."
William Wright, columnist for Financial News:
"In more than 15 years of writing about the financial markets, I have regularly tried to defend the industry against often ill-informed banker-bashing. Attacks on bonuses have deliberately inflated the numbers and neglected the fact that pay is coming down faster than it looks. Synthetic outrage from politicians has sought to disguise their own failings. And wilder claims that the banks are uniquely responsible for the crisis ignore the willing role played by everyone from investors and regulators to governments and individuals who were swept up in a collective debt-fueled euphoria."
"But in this instance, it is impossible to defend the indefensible. This breach too far will have devastating consequences not only for Barclays, but for the rest of the industry and its increasingly eroded relations with regulators and politicians as they rewrite the rules of the global financial system."
George Parker, Financial Times political editor:
"The anger at Westminster is raw. In what may come to be seen as a defining moment in relations between the British parliament and the City, Barclays's attempt to rig interest rates has tipped the political mood from resentment to outright contempt.
Simon Jenkins, columnist for the Guardian:
"There seems no end to the immunity -- moral, political, fiscal and possibly legal -- claimed by the present masters of the universe, the bankers. ... There must surely be a reckoning one day for loss and agony that the credit crunch has inflicted -- and is still inflicting -- on millions of innocent victims. But as we seek out the guilty men, we should know that as long as banking retains its stranglehold on policy, the disaster will continue."
This headline, for a column in the Telegraph by Jeremy Warner, takes the cake: "After Barclays, the Golden Age of Finance Is Dead." (It was still alive only a few days ago? Who knew?) Warner writes:
"Just when you thought bankers could sink no lower in public regard, they’ve done it. News that Barclays has been found guilty of repeatedly falsifying the interbank rate –- sometimes for the personal gain of traders, sometimes to make the bank itself seem more creditworthy than it really was –- tops off another calamitous week in the seemingly never-ending litany of banking misdemeanors.
"Coming hard on the heels of the chaos surrounding an IT breakdown at Royal Bank of Scotland, it is as if bankers are actively out to confirm their reputation for recklessness, incompetence and self-enriching disregard for the interests of customers and the wider economy.
"At a time when the political and regulatory backlash against finance is already at fever pitch, much of it ill-thought out, counterproductive and economically harmful, there could scarcely have been a more spectacular own goal."
And here I thought Occupy Wall Street's criticisms of bankers were tough. Hell hath no fury like a financial columnist scorned.
(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)
Read more breaking commentary from Josh Barro and Bloomberg View writers and editors at the Ticker.
-0- Jun/29/2012 19:33 GMT