I very rarely watch films in bed – mostly because the television in my bedroom is ancient and prone to turning itself off half way through a film. Or you get the picture but no sound – very frustrating. However last Monday (Bank Holiday), with both daughters and granddaughter away and as it was bucketing down with rain, I ended up staying in bed to watch Flash Gordon and the TV, in charitable mode, actually worked. I’ve never watched this film all the way through and every now and then, I enjoy watching something deliciously ridiculous. So a pleasant morning.
But my mind always strays whatever film I’m watching and something Ming the Merciless said to Flash, made it stray again. Ming suggested he would like to have Flash on his side and he would give him an entire planet of his own where Flash could rule over everyone, in exchange for his loyalty. The planet was Earth and Ming confirmed he would do such terrible things to the planet prior to handing it over, Flash would not recognise the people on Earth. “You’ll make them slaves” Flash suggests? “Let’s just say they’ll be satisfied with less” Ming replies (that’s from memory, so don’t quote me but you get the gist).
It made me think of the relationship we earthlings have with our so called ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the financial sector. There was a time when we, as the customer, expected and even assumed the people running banks were decent, professional, ethical and even helpful people. Just like the people on the adverts and a bank manager was such a pillar of the establishment, he could even sign your passport. As for the CEO or Chairman of a bank? They were, quite naturally, beyond reproach.
Times have changed radically and, while I don’t suggest the majority of employee’s in the financial sector are intentionally bad people, most of us don’t bat an eyelid now even when we hear how banks (bankers) are laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, manipulating LIBOR or screwing their customers every which way. Worse than that, we seem to have accepted the ridiculous myth no-one is personally to blame for any criminal conduct in the banking world and senior bankers should still get bonuses for running what are, in some cases, organised crime syndicates. How did that happen? When did we accept becoming a banana republic?
One of the things we are possibly all agreed on – and even bankers – is how over extended credit was a major contributory factor to the credit crunch. People with low incomes were encouraged to take on mortgages they couldn’t afford; banks were issuing credit cards like they were ‘Smarties’; businesses were getting massive loans and; even students with no incomes were offered big overdrafts. Of course no one had to accept any of these loans but, in a consumer society where “credit is good for the economy” was the motto of the day and, as the rise in house prices became totally out of sync with what people earned, many people did. And while some of the public pushed themselves to the absolute maximum in the borrowing stakes, the banks, who based their bonus structures on loans, went even further.
Then the crunch came and suddenly the huge and fundamental difference between the people (who the banks had willingly lent money to) and the banks, became horribly transparent. The banks got all or most of the money they lost back from the taxpayer (the people) on the grounds they would re-float the economy – which they didn’t do. Meanwhile the people had no one to bail them out and, almost overnight, this situation was exacerbated when the banks started aggressively demanding back the money they’d lent consumers. It was a double whammy – the credit crunch caused mass austerity on the one hand (cuts in every aspect of public funding except MPs and bankers’ wages) and, on the other hand, not only did future credit dry up, the terms for existing credit were harshly altered – although the terms and conditions which enabled this were always in the small print, tucked away discreetly for a rainy day.
I’m not talking about PPI or LIBOR or IRSA or even major bank frauds here – just how the basic principles of the bank / consumer relationship, changed. The banks, who were so eager to extend credit one day, were demanding it back with menaces the next. And the methods they’ve used over the last 6 years are often akin to those used by the playground bully. Here’s a couple of examples:
Bank of Scotland has been ordered to compensate a customer for harassment after it made an astonishing 547 calls to recover a debt. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/banking/2013/07/bullying-bank-ordered-to-pay-up-for-harassing-customer-know-your-rights
(Sorry – the above link, is temporarily not working)
Every bad thing about banks got horribly worse after the historic events of October 2008 when Gordon (Brown that is, not Flash) and his chums created a completely different pecking order in the country he was supposedly running as a democracy. And sadly, I have to conclude the end result has caused Britain to be a ‘State of Anxiety.’
Fear has always been an efficient if immoral tool to control large numbers of people. People who are frightened tend not to ‘rock the boat.’ Most of us don’t have grandiose ambitions and it’s the idea of losing the simple basics in life we’ve worked hard for, that cause the greatest fear. Therefore, regardless of how bad the game has become, we keep playing it. We don’t worry about getting run over by a bus because we don’t think it will ever happen. We don’t worry a meteorite will smash into earth and we’ll be obliterated because we know there’s nothing we could do about it. But the idea of losing your family home for instance, is a situation that cripples people with fear. I know because I’ve been through 22 eviction hearings. My particular case, or cases, were complicated and I can’t go into detail because of Operation Hornet and sub judice. But whatever the reason anyone is staring eviction in the face, the sickening fear of it becoming a reality, is always the same. It’s debilitating and crushing.
So paying your mortgage to keep your house is a number one priority which means, at all costs, you must keep your job (even if you hate your job because the new corporate order means you are asked to do things you feel are morally unacceptable). Paying that mortgage to the bank is definitely going to keep you playing the game.
But what happens if you lose your job because your employer was one of the thousands of SME owners who have been sent to the wall (administration or liquidation) by the banks who have unethically demanded long term loans be paid back overnight? Or if you worked for an SME that was a creditor of a company forced into administration which has, as a consequence, then hit the wall itself? What happens if, through no fault of your own, there is no job to pay the mortgage?
In those instances it’s an amazingly short scenario to the really basic problem of things like food. Benefits are few and far between these days (cutting those on benefits also cuts the numbers of unemployed). Who would have believed hundreds of thousands of people in Britain would have to rely on food banks? How frightening is it when you have to rely on charity to feed your family? And it happened so quickly – austerity, job losses, benefit cuts and food banks.
I could go on – electricity, travel costs, school fees, health care, old age with inadequate pensions…. what it all adds up to is anxiety and fear for a lot of people. And when people live with fear, just keeping your head above water is a priority. Questioning why you are in that situation becomes a secondary consideration – first you have to survive.
Meanwhile, the masters of the universe most responsible for where we are – what’s happened to them? In the majority of cases they have just continued to receive mega fees, bonuses and pension pots for failing with vigour. Should we feel sorry for the likes of James Crosby, who lost his knighthood and even had to forego a third of his six figure pension pot? I think most people don’t even care. Their own personal angst totally and reasonably excludes the bigger picture. Which is very convenient for those who do their best to make us forget how we got to where we are.
The comments from Ming the Merciless made me think – has the aftermath of the credit crunch brow beaten us all to the point we ‘except less’ and ‘accept the unacceptable’? Is this why we don’t shout and scream when shareholders (including the taxpayer), who’ve already lost a fortune in banks like HBOS, RBS and Lloyds, see millions of pounds being paid in fines for criminal conduct in banks as opposed to holding CEOs and Chairmen to account for what happens on their watch? Is this why we unbelievably seem to accept one law for the masses and one for the elite? Much as I hate the very idea, I think that may well be the case and I even wrote to David Cameron asking for him for some clarification on this point:
Dear Mr Cameron,
I and many other people were stunned by the quotes from the chief executive-designate of the Prudential Regulation Authority, which were reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (December 14th, 2012).
Mr Bailey seems to have confirmed that, irrespective of their criminal actions, banks are not only “too big to fail”; they are also “too big to prosecute”. In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Bailey said that prosecuting banks and by implication their executive and non-executive directors,
“would be a very destabilising issue. It’s another version of too important to fail. Because of the confidence issue with banks, a major criminal indictment, which we haven’t seen and I’m not saying we are going to see… this is not an ordinary criminal indictment.”
Mr Cameron, unless I am completely mistaken, Mr Bailey seems to be telling us that banks, and therefore bankers, are now officially considered to be above the law in this country and that, in the interests of confidence in the banking industry (which is already at rock bottom among the British public, and therefore can hardly sink any lower), they cannot be prosecuted ……..
……..If justice is indeed now a ‘private members’ club’, then it is to up to you, Mr Cameron, to explain this to the British public. And, as I am sure you are aware, there is a real danger that the country will descend into lawlessness if the law is unevenly applied and enforced. If you really intend proceeding down the path seemingly advocated by Mr Bailey, then you risk going down in history as the Prime Minister who did more than any other to undermine the legitimacy of the British state……
I have never had a reply to my letter and the lack of reply speaks volumes.
My point: Has the so called ‘credit crunch’ worked out badly for everyone? Or has it enabled some very sinister aspects of society to come to the forefront and control us all via economic fear? I think that is exactly what’s happened. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Here’s the definition of that saying from the Cambridge Dictionaries on line: “said to emphasize that the person who is paying someone to do something can decide how it should be done”
There is no doubt the banks can afford to pay the piper – and how crazy is it our elected representatives gave the banks that money from the public purse? They gave the banks so much money, it seems even Governments can no longer call up a good tune these days.
Of course, in the film (and the comics), Flash Gordon never gives in to the likes of Ming. He risks everything to save the world. I can’t help feeling our modern day equivalents, who endlessly profess to be fighting for the greater good (especially running up to elections), have gone completely off track – and they only ever seem to save the inhabitants of La La land – which is a very small island somewhere between the Cayman Islands and Monte Carlo. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for capitalism – who doesn’t want to be rich? I lived in a Communist Country for two years and it was like – well actually it was similar to what we have in Britain now – some very wealthy and very arrogant people suppressing the rights of ordinary people. We have the same kind of lunacy now masquerading as democracy. If it was just happening in a cartoon or a film, I would maybe call it deliciously ridiculous. In real life, it’s not the least bit entertaining and it’s very disturbing. And not least because the authorities we all thought we could rely on (after all we vote for them), are the very people who are allowing this absurd situation to continue. Where will it end?
BTW, you may remember, at the end of the Flash Gordon film, a random hand reaches out and takes the ‘all powerful’ ring Ming wore. Clearly Ming wasn’t really dead and was just biding his time before having another go at world domination (there’s always one). I am reliably informed Ming the Merciless is currently residing in La La Land rent free, in exchange for doing a bit of consultancy work for the great and good.