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Date: 01/06/16

Banking Off It

It is perhaps an indication of how things have gone to Hades in a Honda in what it still pleases us in our state of happy delusion to call our 'society' that this is the first post here under the rubric of 'Ethical Shopping' for nearly a decade. Still, at least I could claim a minor degree of prescience for claiming at that time that the very notion of such a practice was all but impossible for most of us. And so it has proven.

The rot has gone deep. So deep, in fact, that organisations of various sorts which used to claim a higher ethical standard than the norm (and which in some cases still arrogate such a status to themselves even when the evidence is mounting up to the contrary) have given up the struggle and - at the very least - seriously compromised their positions.

One such is the Co-operative Bank. Now, old hippies and other radicals will remember how - in the days when such principles were not considered so outlandish as to place one under immediate suspicion - the Co-op Bank was considered the 'go to' place if you wanted to be as satisfied as you ever could be that your money was not being used for investment in morally dubious enterprises.

And indeed, for many years this was the case, and all was quite tickety and even slightly boo too. Until the Bank fell under the control of people who - finding that they were somewhat 'behind the curve' in terms of their status in the new, thrusting and dynamic market place of 'financial services' (a term so broad that it covers everything from your village Post Office - should you still have both a Post Office and a village to put it in - down to the likes of HSBC) - decided to follow in the footsteps of those whom they perceived to be their betters - or, rather, their richers - and indulge in some of that entrepreneurial activity which has made our economy the soaraway success that it is today.

So, lax management became the Order Of The Day, because nothing breeds success so much as allowing the terminally pushy, brash and sociopathic to do much as they please in the knowledge that they are ninety-five percent likely to get away with it. This, coupled with the acquisitiveness which is another essential part of the speculator's stock-in-trade, led to the disastrous takeover of a former building society (and its sub-prime mortgages) in 2009. Combined, these led to a major crisis in 2013 which led the Co-op Bank to be effectively handed over to the same type of hedge-fund vultures to whom we are expected to genuflect five times a day.

One aspect of the change of ownership and direction which has become a worrying trend in the subsequent period has been the closure - often with little warning or negotiation - of accounts held with the bank by non-governmental organisations, social projects and non-violent campaigning groups. This started off with a purge of pro-Palestinian groups (from an organisation set up to fund university-level education for women trapped in that open concentration camp called Gaza right up to the main Palestine Solidarity Campaign itself), but is now clearly being extended to other areas which the cravenly disingenuous could safely label 'controversial' or 'political' without there being too much of a fuss.

And lo, it comes to pass that this month Co-op bank will close the account of the Sheffield branch of the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, with the strong likelihood that other branches of the organisation will find the rug pulled out from under them shortly, as happened to the Wales branch at the tail-end of 2015. All this despite the fact that Nicaragua is deemed compliant with international standards of regulation.

A spokesbeing for Co-op Bank denied (as expected) that this unseemly and deeply unethical conduct on their part was in any way related to the activities of these groups, but was due to the requirements of 'due diligence'. Now, somewhat in their defence, the bank does find itself in a bind here because, as a result of the standard yapping and snarling of the jackal press, our rubber-stamp parliament passed a law which was ostensibly intended to prevent money-laundering by dubious enterprises such as those currently deemed to be 'terrorists' (who will, in due course, become our bestest friends as soon as the geopolitical wind changes direction), and placed the obligation for policing this on the banks themselves, with heavy fines for those institutions deemed not to have carried out 'due diligence'.

(That these strictures do not seem to apply to that semi-detached cess-pit known as 'The City Of London' which - according to one experienced and well-informed observer - is the most corrupt place on the planet, is one of those happy little accidents which I'm sure will be corrected one day - and rescinded the next).

What this does provide, of course, is a convenient excuse for the Co-op and other banks to back away from providing any service that they don't want to give because it doesn't meet their 'risk appetite'; that is, that the amount of effort they have to put into their 'due diligence' makes those accounts 'uneconomic' in narrow accounting terms.

It's also very convenient for the series of neo-liberal governments which have plagued our land over the last four decades: I mean, why bother with all the effort involved in infiltrating, spying upon and otherwise undermining causes which you believe to be dangerous to 'good order' if you can get the latter-day saints of the banking system to hamstring and throttle them and take such rap as there may be as a result? So it is that any and every progressive cause - both here and abroad - may be surrounded by the artillery of corporate power and reduced to rubble like Harfleur before the forces of Henry V (I'm just reading Juliet Barker's fine book on the Agincourt campaign - thank you for the loan, Si‚n - which is why the comparison came into my head just now; although the outbreak of dysentery there pales by comparison to the tempÍtes de merde we have to endure today). And so may the world be made secure for Goldman Sachs, and the ovine masses may safely graze on their genetically-modified pastures, believing - not entirely without reason - that There Is No Alternative.