Eyes Burned Into Bonus Bob With Wild Contempt

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011

704 words
12 January 2011
Daily Mail , Page: 10
(c) 2011 Associated Newspapers. All rights reserved

QUENTIN LETTS on Barclays chief's grilling

ONLY two MPs caused 'Bonus Bob' much difficulty yesterday. David Ruffley and John Mann did it by staring at him with insistent eyeballs, burning into him with wild, theatrical contempt.

In short, they circumvented normal codes of Western discourse. It's the only way.

Big bankers such as Mr Diamond know how to bat away formal questions from reasonable eggheads. It's what they do. They win discussions. Clinch deals. Bluff. But shouty loners, interrupters whose contempt drips from leering lips: such people they seldom encounter. They fuse the inner workings of a Bob Diamond brain. To drill into Diamond geezers you need to psych yourself up and risk some anger.

I was standing by the door when Mr Diamond, one of the highest-paid players in world banking, arrived for his session with the Treasury Select Committee. Shortish fellow, weak chin, poor complexion. Wears his hair with maybe a hint of henna.

He gave my shoulder a comradely squeeze. Lord knows why. Never having met the man, I wondered if he was patting me in sympathy. Mrs Letts has an account at Barclays, you see. They send us statements from time to time. Memsahib tends to eat them the moment they drop through the door.

Mr Diamond sat at the witness table with only one sidekick. This chap was called Anthony and had a wan, waxy manner. He said little.

It was Bonus Bob the politicians were after. Westminster is in full 'bash the bankers' mode. Demagoguery meets globalisation. First to have a go yesterday was committee chairman Andrew Tyrie (Con, Chichester), who gave an uncharacteristic smirk as he noticed the large number of spectators filing into the room. He noted that there were plenty of empty seats at the witness table 'but I somehow think there won't be many takers for them today'. Mr Diamond did not respond. He just sat there with an A4 pad and a sleek silver pen, fingering his chunky wristwatch.

An American, he spoke of 'jabs' and 'campensation' and the 'Bank of Scatland'. He called Mr Tyrie 'sir' (Tyrie enjoyed that) and gave us an appallingly sugary description of how he's been reared in an Irish-American family with little money. It was like listening to something from TV's The Waltons. The room quickly made clear that such schmaltz was de trop.

Mr Ruffley (Con, Bury St Edmunds) livened things up by rocking in his chair and becoming near-violent. He demanded that Barclays lend more to small business. He wanted to know if Mr Diamond was grateful to British taxpayers for the advantages their support gives the big banks. Mr Diamond would admit no such gratitude. He even said that the time for apologies was over. Oh dear.

Ruffers was full of aggro, throwing hands in the air, chewing hard on gum while listening to Mr Diamond, interrupting him with scornful ejaculations, saying 'good!' with heavy sarcasm. He generally treated the smooth swank to some West Indian bowling.

Mr Diamond kept cool, tempted though he may have been to explode. The anger management training paid off but it was a close-run thing.

Ditto when Mr Mann (Lab, Bassetlaw) approached the oche and started to recite alleged historic misdemeanours by Barclays (eg its treatment of Jewish customers in the Hitler years and its conduct in apartheid South Africa). Mr Mann, who nods his head like a bloke who might thump you at any moment, asked why it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Mr Diamond fingered his collar and stalled briefly, banjaxed by the passage from St Matthew's Gospel. Then he said: 'You're not a big fan of Barclays, are you?' Very American. It won him a laugh.

He and his image benders may have left the meeting pleased. But the greed of a few overpaid bankers will only increase the desire of George Osborne (who later appeared at the Commons despatch box) to increase competition in high street banking. Barclays shareholders, watch out