Archive for April 4th, 2012

The acceptable face of economic debate?

posted by Edward Jones

THIS POST IS BY JOSHUA GLENDINNING

Angela Knight, head of the British Banker’s Association, is to step down after five years at the helm of the industry body. Knight has led something of a charmed life in what would be seen by many as an invidious position in an adverse political climate for the financial services sector. While the former Tory MP doesn’t garner respect from all political quarters, she is certainly admired by many within the financial services sector for her ability to speak on behalf of the industry. According to The Guardian, she has given over 800 broadcast interviews, and travelled over 14,000km to and from Brussels alone since 2006. For those working in the City, it has been preferable to have such a shrewd political operator speaking on their behalf rather than having to face the ire of public opinion themselves

Knight’s time at the BBA has been indicative of a broader trend within politics and the media. Despite frequent media brickbats, those within the financial services sector are often far better able to carve themselves positions of political and intellectual authority than many other would-be commentators. Ultimately, the BBA is little more than a lobbying organisation for its members and yet Knight has been able to assume an air of authority within the media which would not be accorded to many others in similar positions.

For example, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey may have been making political waves this week but he is unlikely to be asked on most news programmes to talk on subjects that don’t explicitly affect his members. (Incidentally, for an interesting insight on the man who appears to have the ability to turn the government and subsequently the public into Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, listen to Profile on Radio 4). Knight, on the other hand, has been frequently asked to discuss broader social and economic issues, as well as more obvious areas such as the reform of the banking sector.

The financial crisis (or perhaps Robert Peston) has increased public interest in the financial services sector to a level previously unseen. However, outside of personal finance, many commentators in possession of a sufficient degree of technical knowledge are also industry insiders. The adversarial exceptions to this rule (for example, here and here) lack experience at conveying their views to the new audience which has invaded their previously arcane and quiet cloister of political debate. Unlike construction, manufacturing or even many service industries, the products of financial services are almost entirely intangible and the sector is therefore assumed to be too complex or too boring for most people to understand. The upshot is that media discussion is divided between either popular yet infantile anger or sophisticated yet sterile analysis.

‘The acceptable face of British banking’ may not be missed by all, but the reputation she has built for herself is certainly instructive for any company or organisation wishing to make an impression on the media.