Alex Brummer, City and Business Editor of the Daily Mail, was our guest at lunch in Westminster yesterday. He talked about the origins of the financial crisis - he has outlined it in his book Crunch - and sparked a lively discussion.
There seemed to be little confidence around the table that the economic problems would right themselves any time soon. It could even be ten years before government's effective nationalization of certain banks is reversed, and they are left to themselves. Meanwhile all sorts of new regulations, panels, committees, and boards are being set up to regulate the banking sector. They will of course just be competing against each other, producing contradictory rules - and too many of them. It will just dampen any spark of entrepreneurship in our banking system, and drive financial markets out of London. There is no shortage of up and coming countries that would love that.
The things that have worked best to regulate business, like the takeover code and various codes on best-practice board management, have been voluntary. Instead of throwing more regulation at the bank, the government should be telling banks and other financial institutions to set up their own code that would curb the excesses of the last decade. Things like how commissions are paid - hopefully so that they did not just encourage people to rush for market share and sell the wrong things to the wrong people - and how credit agencies are paid and judged. It's bad government regulation that let things get out of control in the first place, so we can't rely on the official bodies to get it right.
In the Daily Mail this week, Brummer writes how, after years of giving them the benefit of the doubt, he has now gone right off New Labour. Prudence has been cast aside, in the Pre-Budget Statement they went for broke, without any clear plan for getting back to financial probity. And their slow steps to make the tax system simpler have suddenly been ripped up. It's a view I share.