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14 - 20 July , 2012
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THE ORCHARD ON FIRE
 
LONDON EYE
The Slide In British Society
by SHAHED SADULLAH
London Olympics: Hopes And Fears
The UK at the moment is in the grip of what may be described as indignant outrage, with news of sharp practice in the banking sector – in fact, perhaps clear fraud may be a better way of describing it. Barclays, one of the UK's largest banks, has been fined £290 million for attempting to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor). The allegation is that the bank tried to manipulate the rate at which banks lend to each other for several years in the run up to the financial crisis.
Labour and the LibDem-Tory coalition government have been in a ding dong over whether this calls for a judge-led inquiry – judges in the UK do have time for matters other than constitutional issues – or a parliamentary inquiry. The government wanted just a parliamentary inquiry while Labour was arguing for a more extensive Judge led inquiry but the government obviously won the day. Apprehensions are openly voiced that Barclays may not be the only bank involved and whatever the outcome of the parliamentary investigation, the effects of this will be far reaching.
The integrity of benchmark reference rates such as Libor and Euribor is of fundamental importance to both UK and international financial markets. If firms making submissions to determine these rates start using these submissions as tools to promote their own interests, then the credibility of the whole system is tarnished. The city of London, one of the leading financial centres in the world, cannot afford that and the implications of it for the British economy as a whole could be very worrying.
Yet, banking is not the only institution in the UK whose credibility has taken a hit in the recent past. The two houses of the British Parliament, proclaimed the world over as the mother of Parliaments, found that many of their members were fiddling their expense claims and making a good earning on the side with such claims. Then we found that the British press, self proclaimed as the most free, fair and balanced in the world, was itself not shy of resorting to practices of an extremely dubious nature – to the extent of hacking into people's phones, even including the mobile phone of a murdered child, if it meant getting a juicy story. And even as I write this, a British policeman is on trial for killing a 47-year-old newspaper seller during a demonstration in which the man, who was no part of the demonstration, was pushed to theground by the policeman in question with such force that he died shortly afterwards.
So are all these things a sign of something rather more endemic in British society than individual excesses? Keep in mind that in the backdrop of all this are the public riots of the summer of 2011, the likes of which were never seen on that scale ever in this green and pleasant land.
There is no easy answer to this question. Certainly the 'post-religious' society and the gradual decline of the family as the basic unit of society have meant that the factors that traditionally anchored a society to its moral moorings have been frayed and what now forms the basis of moral values is a general if rather loose concensus on what is good and what isn't, on what is permissible and what isn't and on what is acceptable and what isn't. Except that a general concensus is some way short of a widespread universal belief and therefore there are more opinions than one on what constitutes the acceptable and what does not. Perhaps then, when the values of a society are in a state of flux, it is inevitable that in some aspects, there will be a slide.
One of the areas in which this slide is most clearly visible is the standard of discipline in British schools. There are, quite literally, schools which are more dangerous than high security prisons and in more secondary schools than one, police have to be stationed outside permanently. That may well be the outcome of trying to fix something that is not broken, with the result that one of the finest public education systems in the world is now struggling to produce young men and women who have basic reading and writing skills. The new value system has it that a teacher cannot even touch a pupil, no matter what. Thus we have a situation in which there would be few teachers who have not been verbally abused by students. Even primary school pupils have taken part in such abuse and all that can be done to them – in the most extreme cases – is to exclude them from school for a time. That in most cases suits the child just fine and since there is little by way of parental authority at home to correct the child, he goes on in his merry way till he leaves school at the age of 16 – technically, that is, for as far as acquiring anything remotely resembling learning goes, one could say he never went to school. He or she has little prospect of employment or higher education and therefore the only two things open to him are the dole queue and crime. Any form of corporal punishment is something that is simply not considered – or even spoken of – in polite society while so many of these early misdemeanours, which lead on to things much more serious, could be easily rectified by the judicious use of a couple of swipes of the birch.
Of course, the guys who fiddle Libor rates and parliamentary expense claims do not come from such a background – in fact these people come from the most privileged of backgrounds and have often been to the best educational institutions in the world. But the environment affects us all and if the environment is one in which loutish behaviour is regarded as 'cool', then the society in question produces more than just louts whose behaviour is below par. One example of this was witnessed by me in a train one evening when, traveling from Victoria Station in central London, one angry father got up and asked a group of louts to stop using the four letter word as he had two young daughters with him. The louts laughed at him and carried on doing exactly as they pleased and there was nothing the father of the two girls could do. Nobody in the carriage stood up for this man; how could they be expected to when foul language is supposed to be clever or funny or both, to the extent that even BBC television uses it in its programmes – even before 9pm.
A Pakistani audience may laugh at any moan over the British value system and they would be justified in doing so. But one wonders sometimes if the huge disparity in resources between the west and developing nations is always reflected in a corresponding degree of superior and visibly fairer activity in all spheres of London Olympics: Hopes And Fearspublic life.

Marcus Agius Resigns
Barclays said its Chairman Marcus Agius has resigned following the bank being slapped with 290 million pounds (USD 451 million) fine by the US and the UK authorities to settle the charges of manipulating global benchmark lending rates.
Agius, who served as the Barclays Chairman for the past six years, would stay in his position until a succession plan is in place. Besides, Michael Rake has been appointed Deputy Chairman.
But last week's events – evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank – have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays reputation. As Chairman, I am the ultimate guardian of the bank's reputation. Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside," Agius said in a statement.
"I am truly sorry that our customers, clients, employees and shareholders have been let down," he added.
The bank said it would launch an audit of its business practices, led by Rake and a panel of non-executive directors.
The audit will undertake "a root and branch review of all of the past practices that have been revealed as flawed since the credit crisis started and identify implications for our business practices".
Meanwhile, Barclays said it would begin the search for a successor both from within the existing Board members and from outside under the leadership of John Sunderland.

 
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