Having just reached our fiftieth “Ripped-Off Britons” cartoon in the Guardian, and with the imminent end of 2010, we would like to wish our readers a better New Year than the last one. Why are we so mean-minded? Why not wish you all prosperity? Prosperity is a dubious thing to be wished in a Britain where prosperity has become a threat wielded by the well connected to fend off justice and regulation.
Britain’s treatment of BAE Systems, our country’s biggest remaining manufacturing company, perhaps provides the clearest example. An arms dealer whose defence against prosecution for corruption is not innocence, but loss of prosperity and jobs. A defence that continues to succeed to such a great extent that while some investigations are completely abandoned, even the recently ended legal case in the British High Court was not about whether and to what extent the perpetrator should be punished, but about whether and to what extent the victims should be punished. The Serious Fraud Office, having capped the fine and issued a blanket get-out-of-jail card to BAE over their mischievous, we dare not use the C word, sale of a military air-traffic control radar to a country with virtually no air-force had also agreed that any further fine should be paid by the people of Tanzania. In the form of a deduction from their £30m in compensation money. The SFO clutches at BAE’s straw promise that it has reformed. After all, it’s always worth clutching at straws if someone else is drowning – isn’t it? And BAE’s stench drifts in over the channel from distant lands. In Britain the company only brings prosperity and jobs.
The Financial Services Industry, on the other hand, craps on its own doorstep. For years we have known that we are ripped off by providers of financial services from every angle. As customers we are ripped off by rapacious charges for our borrowings and pitiful returns on our savings. As pension fund holders we are ripped off by the excessive extraction of profits to pay for ridiculous bonuses, leaving our pension funds with meagre compensation for the excessive charges and pitiful returns we suffered to create those profits. And we are comprehensively ripped-off as taxpayers, as has been seen by the massive fines imposed on the industry by the less compromised US authorities, most recently on Deutsche Bank, for aiding tax evasion, and threatened most recently on Ernst & Young for aiding and abetting the ‘Repo 105’ tactics of big banks to hide their swingeing debts culminating in the Credit Crisis.