Last night the Oxford Union debated the motion “ This House blames the bankers”.
Months ago in a moment of weakness I had agreed to speak against the motion. By yesterday, steeped in the theatre of the Westminster Show trials of bankers, and fresh from the hothouse atmosphere of the Commons smelling blood in the water surrounding the government’s own favourite bankers, I made my way through the driving snow and rain of this economic winter wondering why I hadn’t opted for a night off instead.
I looked on the cheerful side. I had not agreed to defend Dr Shipman’s approach to care for patients, or to defend the actions of the Australian fire razers. Even in the cauldron of censorship of current British politics there were far worse things that everyone must agree non bankers had done.
The debate itself was not what I expected. Geraint Anderson, the City columnist, laid in to his former City colleagues with a gusto, accusing them of serious crime as well as of bringing the financial house down. A communist don reminded us of the lack of power of Marxist analysis, condemning capitalism more generally for the very income inequalities which allowed him as well as the other guest speakers to earn more than the average, whilst Rachel Elnaugh of Red Letter days didn’t seem too impressed by bankers either.
On my side of the argument Ron Sandler, now head of Northern Rock, quietly reminded the House of the complexity, importance and diversity of the modern financial industry, asking why just the bankers, and did they mean bankers. He pointed out that many people got jobs and bought homes during the long period of growth. Dr Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute made an impressive speech explaining how the Federal Reserve Board and the UK monetary authorities were to blame, cataloguing their mistakes with interest rates and the volume of money and credit which they are meant to control. I also had a few words to say on the roles of the Regulators and governments.
To my surprise, after the debate, I was told the Motion had been defeated . Indeed it had been overwhelmingly defeated, by 131 votes to 51 votes, with a substantial number of abstentions. Well over half those present had voted No.
Many will say Oxford is not representative. There may have been other special factors at work. It is nonetheless interesting that an audience of bright young people who will have to get jobs in a difficult climate and help to pay off all the debts the government is taking out voted the way they did. It shows that outside the Westminster and media bubble blaming the bankers is not the automatic and easy way out that it is in the spin doctors scripts. The students, in a debating chamber known for its love of entertainment and funny quips, were eager for something serious and for some explanation of what had happened. They did not take the easy way out. Let’s hope the government listens.