Did 'love' blind Mr Diamond?

21:46, Jul 10 2012

Mills and Boon is one of the most successful publishing houses on the planet. And for the past 70 years it has made its money solely from love stories. We all love love.

Singers have sung of love since songs began, and writers written. Love, wrote Andrew Lloyd Webber, love changes everything, how you live and how you die. All you need is love, sang the Beatles. If I have not love, said the Bible, I am nothing.

Many a wise man has asserted that love is blind and many another that God is love. (Though none, to my knowledge, has drawn the conclusion that God must therefore be blind. The big boy seems exempt from the rules of logic that bind the rest of us.)

Love is the salt in life's casserole, the spanner in its works and the feather in its cap. Love is the landmine that jolts us from the dull flat world on to a plane where our feet seem winged and our little lives purposeful.

And love is not fussy. It can and will bloom wherever there is a squidgy human heart into which to sink its roots. It can flower in a desert, a prison, or even, astonishingly, a bank.

Until last week Mr Bob Diamond was chief executive of Barclays, the enormous, and enormously profitable, British bank. Also last week he appeared in front of a select committee in London, a committee enquiring into banking malpractice.


Barclays, under Mr Diamond, had been manipulating the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, known as Libor.

I'm sure I don't need to explain to you why manipulating Libor is a dastardly act. So dastardly that the financial authorities fined Barclays a record US$450 million (NZ$566m), which is well over twice what Barclays spends on sponsoring football. It will take the bank days to recover.

Banks are not popular at present, especially the big investment banks that seem to make colossal profits without doing anything useful.

So the committee, awash with self-righteousness, had heated the coals and was looking forward to hauling Mr Diamond over them.

Then Mr Diamond dropped a three-word grenade. "I love Barclays," he said.

Could this be true? Is it possible that a man could give his heart to a financial institution? Or was it merely a ruse to get round his inquisitors?

Well, one famous quality of love is that it forgives. Love overlooks the flaws in the love-object and sees only its virtues. And by that measure it seems that Mr Diamond is indeed in love.

What else but love could enable him to overlook Barclays' support of the apartheid regime in South Africa long after other banks had pulled out? Barclays back then was known as Boerclays.

Love also enabled Mr Diamond to overlook Barclays' financial support for Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe as well as the charge of assisting in international money laundering in 2009, a case that the bank settled for $298m. And love blinded him to several charges of tax avoidance, one of which led the bank to pay back half a billion pounds to the British government.

And Mr Diamond's love managed to overlook the fact that in the second half of 2011 Barclays was comfortably the most complained-about bank in Great Britain.

More than 11,000 customer complaints were submitted in those six months, and the ombudsman found against the bank in 84 per cent of them.

So if blindness to faults is a sign of love there can be no doubt that Mr Diamond is in love. And that he could fall in love with such an ugly creature only confirms the old saying that there is someone for everyone.

But what of the bank itself? Does it return Mr Diamond's affections? Or is he that sad and sighing figure the unrequited lover?

Well, as far as I can tell Mr Diamond has no faults to overlook. Despite being described by a British peer as the unacceptable face of banking, he seems as flawless as his surname suggests.

But another quality of love is that it gives and does not count the cost.

And if that is so then it does seem that Barclays loves Mr Diamond. It has made him a wealthy man. When Mr Diamond was at Barclays Capital, the bank's investment or "casino" arm, the bank gave him eye- watering bonuses. And when Barclays sold its fund management arm to an American company, it handed over $26m to Mr Diamond.

So it seems beyond doubt that Barclays loves Mr Diamond as much as Mr Diamond loves Barclays. Their story would make a wonderful Mills and Boon.

We all love love.

The Press