Jon Moulton, the private equity chief, warned a City lunch this week that he feared serious civil unrest. There was, he said, a 25 per cent chance of one of the 15 member countries of the eurozone pulling out of the currency club. That, he said, would be a catastrophic shock leading to a “far greater financial crisis” than the current one.
The mind boggles at a financial crisis far worse than the current one. Is such a thing possible? Even with this one, it may already be too late to prevent social unrest, especially in Britain, which is tipped to be one of the worst-hit countries economically.
The spectacle of bankers continuing to award themselves bonuses while taking taxpayer support is feeding an extraordinary public rage and a fierce sense of injustice. With 40,000 people losing their jobs each month, it is a recipe for trouble, come the traditional rioting months of the summer.
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It won’t be bankers being lynched, of course, but small shopkeepers in inner-city areas having their windows smashed and their stock looted. The only surprise is there haven’t already been antibanker demonstrations in Threadneedle Street – secretly cheered on by 99 per cent of Middle England.
The seething sense of unfairness is almost palpable. The view that a small elite not only caused the crisis, but continues to profit at the expense of everyone else, is near universal. Gordon Brown’s promise of no rewards for failure in state-supported banks is looking ever more threadbare. We now know that Peter Cummings, the highest-paid person on the HBOS board, headed a division responsible for £7 billion of losses last year, yet he was still given a reported £660,000 payoff when he left in early January clutching his £6 million pension pot.
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The suggestion by Lord Myners, the City minister, that some bankers simply have no sense of the broader society around them is getting harder to refute. To be preparing to pay out billions of pounds in discretionary bonuses over the next few weeks suggests an ignorance of the public mood and a single-mindedness bordering on sociopathic.