No inside information is needed to know what George Osborne is doing this weekend. He’s just taken delivery of the Vickers report, and must at least claim to have read it by the time everyone else sees it on Monday.  We’ve a pretty good idea of the contents, thanks to the modern fashion for carefully orchestrated leaks. Banks in Britain will have to set up a financial firewall between the activities most of us recognise as banking (taking deposits, handling cash, making loans, changing currencies) and what Vince Cable elegantly dubbed “casino banking”.

Utility banking is as vital as a modern economy as gas, water and electricity, and it’s just about as exciting. Ambitious bankers don’t join to work in a utility, they join to play in a casino where the chips are counted in billions, and multi-million pound bonuses are mere rounding errors. Thus the unedifying spectacle, last year, of banks queuing up to lend $39 billion on the finest terms for BHP Billiton’s adventure into the potash business, while companies trying to create jobs and do something new could find £39,000 only on usurious terms, if at all.

The banks are not meeting their commitment to lend more to UK businesses, despite their claims. Their vaunted expertise in the capital markets is of little benefit to their smaller customers. Yet it’s impossible to argue that their owners are benefitting from this behaviour. Shareholders have been more or less completely wiped out. They and the taxpayer are paying for failed gambles in the casino, while the gamblers have departed with their winnings.

This, as much as the cost of the bail-out, explains the continuing resentment against bankers, but they appear not to have noticed. Diamond Bob was speaking for many of his colleagues when he said that the time for remorse is past. Banking need not be about bonuses, any more than is running a water company, yet the bonus culture has survived the crisis almost unscathed. There is no sign of the sea-change in attitudes this industry needs before it can be rehabilitated.

The arguments over Vickers, of how high the fence between utility and casino activities should be and how soon it should be built, will now start. The bankers’ lobbyists will argue, with tears in their eyes, that building it too high, too soon, will mean less and dearer money for small businesses and home-buyers. This assertion looks as convincing as their threats to move their domicile to New York or Zug to escape 50% income tax. Osborne and his neighbour must brace themselves to resist. Vickers represents the best chance for the bankers to repay their debt to society. We must not miss it.

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