Monday, 9 July 2012

Fighting without facts

I think when we finally, finally get to the bottom of the Barclays Libor stuff, it may look rather different. Just a quick reminder, last week there was a version of events that suggested that whilst Barclays had sought to massage its submissions this was in part because the Government encouraged it to. The evidence for this was that a) Paul Tucker had talked to Bob Diamond about Libor b) Diamond referred to "senior figure in Whitehall" in his phone note and c) Shriti Vadera having shown enoigh interest in the Libor rate to commission a paper on it. Add to this the fact that we now know what Barclays did, it becomes obvious doesn't it? The Government was "closely involved", or whatever Osborne said.

The thing is, there are some gaps in the theory. For one, being concerned about Libor, and how Barclays appeared, is not the same as telling Barclays to fiddle its figures. Secondly "senior figures in Whitehall" sounds more like officials than ministers, who, presumably, are "senior figures in Westminister". Perhaps Bob didn't get the distinction (and he wasn't clear on this point in front of the selecrt committee). We don't really  know. More broadly, it appears that "Whitehall" concern with Barclays and Libor could have stemmed from a concern that the bank might need taxpayer support to survive, rather than any desire to fiddle the figures. In sum, it's possible that the version of events that was being spun last week is quite a long way from the truth.

Weirdly, despite the lack of clarity over what actually went on there's already quite a bit of commentary about the Osborne/Balls fight and what it means. To be clear, even Osborne now admits that Balls was not involved in whatever it is that might have happened (although it might not have happened). A political narrative is being created out of events which we aren't even sure of. Commentators are giving advice on the scrap, without looking back to what is being fought over.

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