Interview: Martin Vander Weyer, Spectator Business
The financial crisis has shaken the public's faith in banks, governments and their own security.
However, Spectator Business editor and former investment banker Martin Vander Weyer doesn't believe it's time to look into a "wacky alternative" to capitalism.
The Daily and Sunday Telegraph contributor watched events unfold inside and outside the Excel during the G20 summit earlier this month. Spectator colleague Fraser Nelson even dissected Gordon Brown's £1.1trillion recovery deal, pointing out that it involved a lot of "dressing up old money as new".
Despite the "smoke and mirrors", Mr Vander Weyer believes the summit was a "diplomatic success".
He said: "Gordon Brown got all the world leaders together and talking to each other, even the awkward ones like Medvedev and Sarkozy.
"He got everyone to buy into something, even if when people like my colleague Fraser got into it, what was actually agreed was not substantial.
"There was a lot of smoke and mirrors and spin but it was a moment for optimism.
"I think the contrast between the conversation going on at the Excel and the anarchy outside reminded people that the alternative is chaos.
"It has no cohesive manifesto to offer. However unsatisfactory it may be, the only solution is for Governments to get together and for banks to get trading again.
"This isn't a moment for tearing down the structure of modern life and going for some wacky alternative."
Mr Vander Weyer is due to travel to Docklands himself next month, to address Docklands Business Club members at the second of its Speaker Breakfasts.
His talk will be titled Has Anyone Seen Any Green Shoots Anywhere?
He said: "It's almost too dangerous to use the phrase. Baroness Vadera made the remark on TV recently and people howled at her for it.
"However, in the last few weeks, people have been starting to see some indications. If these continue consistently, they tell us that the worst is nearly over and the possibility of recovery could begin sometime late this year, and that next year will be better. I don't think that we're completely doomed.
"Economies are cyclical, and there's a tendency to forget that. After a downswing there must be an upswing. It's a question of when, and how much damage is done by the downswing."
Mr Vander Weyer's commentaries on the crisis have included interviews with leading figures such as Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond. These talks have led him to believe that the City will be "a rather changed place for many years".
He said: "There's definitely space now for the revival of the old-style cautious banker.
"There was a process in which the better traditions of banking were sidelined, forgotten or never learned. Non-bankers who were basically marketing men were in charge of the biggest banks.
"The financial community as a whole completely lost sight of its role in the wider economy and in society. A perfect example of this was Bear Stearns. It exemplified the worst things about the trading mentality. It had a big sign outside the trading floor saying, 'Let's make nothing but money'.
"Due to the high levels of pay, many began to imagine they were some sort of super breed of extraordinarily clever people. The expansion of the derivatives market and extremely complicated wheeler-dealing disconnected the industry from its real impact.
"In that sense, finance completely lost touch with the real world and they need to find their way back to that.
"The lessons for banks and ordinary folk are similar. Borrowing excessively is the road to ruin. The temptation to up your lifestyle by borrowing as much as anyone will offer you inevitably leads to catastrophe.
"There's also a danger in excessive sophistication in finance, the tendency of financiers to invent ways of making money so complex that only they themselves understand the mechanisms and no one understands the risks.
"Much closer observation of what financiers get up to by regulators is necessary, and pay levels in the financial sector need to be moderated even when the good times come back, as this could all go haywire again."
Despite the failings of the financial industry, Mr Vander Weyer believes that pinning blame largely on figures such as former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin is a "grotesque exaggeration".
He said: "I think the banking industry at large has disgraced itself.
"It lost control and had to be rescued by Governments on a very broad scale. But the idea of personally targeting people like Fred Goodwin, and making him into a hate figure to the extent he has to move his family abroad, is a grotesque exaggeration. There were collective decisions made by boards and shareholders.
"When RBS took over ABN Amro, 94 per cent of shareholders approved it, all the board members were in favour, and some of the press were saying, 'Hats off to Sir Fred for winning the battle'. No one was saying it was going to cause the biggest loss in world banking history within two years.
"I think it's been overcooked and a slightly more mature judgement will say some bankers were good, some misjudged the situation very badly and a very small number were fraudsters."
Mr Vander Weyer denies speculation that the press "talked us into the crisis", arguing that the media "were behind the game" as the crisis broke.
He said: "A lot of my colleagues in the press were surprised on a day-to-day basis about how much worse it was getting.
"All of us are inexperienced in something of this magnitude. But I do think that it's unhelpful now to say we're all going to hell in a handbasket and that there are no signs of recovery anywhere.
"Pessimism and confidence feed on themselves. I'm not saying we should put good news stories about cuddly animals on the front page to cheer people up. But it would be damaging for papers to competitively build up attention by only focusing on the most negative elements of this situation."
Martin Vander Weyer will be appearing at the Docklands Business Club Speaker Breakfast on May 20 at the Abbey Business Centre in One Canada Square. The first Speaker Breakfast with Grant Thornton on May 6 will focus on business opportunities in the current climate.
To book tickets for either event, go to docklandsbusiness.org.uk