I wrote this piece for Comment Is Free yesterday. The immediate crisis has passed. But for how long?
"For all I know those impervious queuers who've been emptying the vaults of Northern Rock really are the bunch of lemmings both the bank and government's top brass think they are yet daren't say so. But I'm inclined to look on them more fondly. Would you sink a single penny into that company just now? The sound of on-message Andy Burnham, chief secretary to the Treasury, squirming away from just such a question on yesterday's PM programme has been a highlight of the Great Rock Crumble so far.
What its customers think they know, is that investors, City wiseguys, politicians and the rest know that no one is in full control of this credit crunch thing, and that the whole edifice of debt whose shadow we've been gorging in is wobbling. Listen again (from 0708) to those interviewed hours before dawn this morning and you'll see what I mean. It's sobering stuff. At the same time there's something horribly thrilling about catching the great god of global finance, if not in its birthday suit, then in surprisingly threadbare underwear. That goes too for the search for scapegoats. Perhaps it's a further measure of how amorphous is that mystic entity "the markets" - hallowed be their name - that no one can agree on what or who is to blame."
Evening Standard business columnist Chris Blackhurst yesterday jabbed a finger at the Rock's chief executive Adam Applegarth: "He led his company on a ride that left the rest of the industry gasping and wondering. Rather than collect his money from customers coming in off the street ... he went to the markets." (From an adjoining gossip column I learned that, "Applegarth is an obsessive. He likes his desk arranged just so, with four pens exactly spaced on the right.") Alistair Darling, naturally, has been on bended knee before the mammon deity, urging we mortals to accept that it moves in mysterious ways while insisting that, thanks to Gordon Brown, we in Britain shall be saved.
But where has Just Gordon been? Car bombs, floods and foot-and-mouth have had him hurling himself in front of oncoming cameras to urge calm, but not the shockwaves shaking his "strong economy". No doubt he anticipated the opposition trying to pin the sin on him as, of course, it has. So has the Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips, accusing him of having fostered "the progressive decline of our traditional values of self-restraint and self-reliance - the very core of a moral life." Oddly, she doesn't censure the previous PM, Gordon's new best friend, who planted the never-never culture he's cultivated. (As Duncan Anderson writes in a letter (fifth one down) to the Guardian today, it's a bit rich for Tories to criticise Labour for continuing with policies they started. Melanie should be careful: we wouldn't want people thinking a "closed thought system" operates at the Mail).
And yet, good Lordy, I find myself a bit in sympathy. When Miss Mel hands out correct hidings I usually assume the mooning position with insolent glee. So I'm a relativist, PC liberal! So spank me! But I'm enough in favour of thrift to agree that government, lenders and consumers - the more madly materialist, at least - have been complicit in the spread of risky borrowing. And while I happily admit to speed-swotting subprimes like a GCSE student who's late with his coursework, I've grasped the subject well enough to see that we've been enjoying the feelgood factor for a long time and that, wherever the fault lies, and whatever the remedies, we might not be feeling quite so good for a while."
The original is here.