Chancellor Alistair Darling is trying to make his presence felt at the World Economic Forum in Davos: this morning he got a group of bankers from eight of the world’s biggest banks in a room together and told them it was time to stop feeling sorry for themselves; that they should work with the politicians to push through regulatory reform. He’s even been moaning about the slow progress being made by the Basle Committee, which is supposed to be proposing said reforms. With the economy returning to growth (ish) and positive news from Nationwide this morning on house prices, he’s clearly feeling in a stronger position than he has been for a while...
Darling’s little pow-wow this morning involved representatives not only from UK banks like HSBC and Barclays, but also US giants Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, plus Swiss-based UBS and emerging markets specialist Standard Chartered. ‘My message to the banks is that it is in their interests to get off the front pages,' Darling told the press beforehand. ‘[They] must know that changes are necessary. They can all see that the regulatory regime needs to be more robust and more intrusive.’ Rather than mope around feeling sorry for themselves and bemoaning their lot – as the likes of Bob Diamond have been doing this week – they should instead ‘work with the government to see how [they] can improve the situation,’ he said.
Darling is also miffed at the length of time it's taking the Basle committee of central bankers and regulators to arrive at its list of proposed reforms (though quite why he's surprised when there are all those buffet lunches to eat, we're not sure). The proposals were supposed to be coming out in the autumn, but rumour has it they might not appear until 2011 now. 'That would be very, very bad,' Darling said. 'We don't have years to sort it out'. It's all good, voter-friendly stuff - although whether it will actually make any difference is another matter entirely.
With bankers under the cosh from all sides, Darling is actually in a stronger position than he's probably used to - not least because he's getting a few positive numbers on the UK economy. After this week's (possible) rise in GDP, today Nationwide suggested that house prices jumped 8.6% year-on-year in January - and it's expecting a double-digit rise in February. OK, so these recent hikes look rather unsustainable - but they might well keep climbing until the General Election.
Still, that's Darling's biggest problem here. However many heads he bangs together, the fact remains that everyone concerned knows he might be out of a job by the middle of this year. So it's going to be quite hard for him to spur the banks into action purely on his own authority...
In today's bulletin:
'Stop feeling sorry for yourselves', Darling tells bankers
Debenhams gets new chairman as Lovering departs for M&B clear-up
Profits soar at bullish Amazon - as iPad lurks
Our Man in Davos: Can private enterprise solve poverty?
Psychology at Work: Climate, Copenhagen and Custard Pots