There are some things that just aren’t worth saying. The hurricane isn’t on its way. Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government. In everyday life it’s OK to make mistakes, to predict things and be so wide of the mark you might as well be rolling a dice. No one’s going to remember; no one’s going to punish you for it.
Things are different in public life, though, aren’t they? If a politician “mis-forecasts” something or other, their opponents will bring it up every chance they’ve got. And a senior banker at a bank that’s majority-owned by the Government has to watch his mouth more than most. He’s got to be deft, skilful, he’s got to please his colleagues and employees and his investors and the international markets, and at the same time he’s got to avoid saying the kind of thing that’s going to upset the public and the fellows at the Treasury that own all the shares. The public and the civil servants are notoriously touchy – for some reason the kind of confidence-building self-congratulatory statements that build confidence in banking circles aren’t so popular among people still reeling from the mess of the last few years.
It’s a delicate balancing game. You’ve got to show progress, but be humble about it; indicate the green shoots but warn of frosts to come. You’ve got to avoid hubris at all times. And one other thing – you’ve got to avoid telling the Government what it can and can’t do, what it’s likely to do, what it should do, even something as seemingly-harmless as what the options are, even if it’s obvious and even if you’re right.
Which is why Sir Philip Hampton’s claim this morning that the Government will be ready to start selling shares in RBS in 2014 is an act of supreme hubris. Why would he say that? Even if the company’s performance allows it, what’s to gain? It’s up to them, Phil, not you, even if you’re right. And if you’re wrong then heaven help you, because no one else will. Your position’s a bit like that of a humble councillor cowering before the throne of a tyrant. He could cut off your head with a single nod of his.
Politicians don’t lack for excuses to lay into bankers. Don’t give them another one.
If you liked this, please comment and share, and don’t forget to take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Care here.