Translated from the French by Tim Gupwell
Paul Tucker, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, made a statement this afternoon before a British Treasury Select Committee. The reason for his presence today was that on the 4th July, before this same committee, Bob Diamond (who was the Chief Executive of Barclays until a few days ago) had hinted that he had been under pressure from Tucker for the bank he managed to submit lower figures for its inter-bank borrowings than the figures it was actually submitting. The figures in question were used at the time by the British Bankers’ Association to calculate the interest rates known as LIBOR (London interbank offered rate): the interbank rates (in dollars) prevailing in London. During the course of a conversation between Tucker and Diamond, the first is claimed to have said to the other that “you wouldn’t suggest anybody doing anything wrong” if Barclays submitted lower figures than it had been doing. Tucker is said to have declared that he was being leaned on himself in this respect by senior members of the Government.
If Bob Diamond’s interpretation of his conversations with Tucker was correct, then a key figure at the head of the Bank of England was inciting one of the Executive Managers of the second biggest commercial bank in the country to manipulate the LIBOR, a rate which constitutes a reference point for the entire international financial system.
My feeling having watched this hearing from start to finish is that Tucker, once widely touted as a replacement for Mervyn King at the head of the Bank of England, has blown his chances. Mind you, I am still the same person who was convinced that Jérôme Kerviel’s trial (the first episode at least, not the recent appeal) would definitely not lead to a conviction!
Tucker’s explanation of the events was that there has been a misunderstanding about the meaning of the conversations he had had with Diamond. At that time Barclays had refused government aid, in the form of a massive capital injection, as it feared that accepting these sums would almost inevitably have lead to its nationalization. Barclays is said to have got round this a little later thanks to a capital investment from the sovereign funds of Qatar. What Tucker was trying to do – according to him yesterday – was to inquire after the health of Barclays: did the rates submitted, which were higher than its peers, signify that the bank was in difficulty?
Paul Tucker is definitely not a great actor: he mechanically poured himself water and started to drink as soon as he was in any difficulty. At times, when posed a question by his interrogators, he appeared utterly panic-stricken, manifestly worried about where it might lead to. Nor was he very assured on the question of what brought him there: when the chairman of the committee highlighted the fact that the committee was called at his request he replied half-heartedly that “You’ve asked me to come voluntarily”, which led the chairman to declare ironically, “largely at your request”.
What conclusions can be drawn? In a formal sense, that today, in the West, we are still living in a democracy. During Goldmans Sach’s hearing in April 2010 (l’audition des dirigeants de Goldman Sachs, en avril 2010), I wrote here:
At this moment in time, I have been at this hearing for two hours. What amazes me is the robustness of this democratic regime, in spite of all the forces ranged against its correct functioning, in spite of the colossal sums which are paid out to lead it astray. It is virtually a miracle to me that people like Senator Carl Levin manage to conserve – despite the great money machine crushing all before it – the integrity that enables them to oppose this steam roller, as he is doing now before my very eyes.
I feel the same way this evening: we are still living in a democracy, at least in what concerns the quality of information I am able to access. To my great satisfaction, it is this information in fact which enables me to read with great clarity between the lines of what is said.
All that remains is for me to be able to explain with just as much satisfaction why all this remains without consequences, and why no decision is ever taken along the lines of my understanding of it.
In the case of Kerviel’s first trial, the verdict seemed to entirely ignore all that had been said during the hearings. Or rather, to ignore what I had been able to read between the lines of what had been said. And it is this which is without doubt the essential point: is the ruling class incapable of reading between the lines? Or does it know how to do it, but count on the fact that it will, more or less, be the only one capable of doing so and that everybody else – and in particular the average voter – will never be able to do so, and will therefore never ask for accounts to be rendered?