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If British history is, as has been suggested, an endless struggle between dashing freebooters and conscientious plodders, the freebooters have been in the ascendancy for far too long

"Britain's bankers are swashbuckling pirates in a long tradition that stretches back 400 years. Pirating is not exclusive to Britain, but we have always been adept at stealing and extorting under the guise of free trade. Britain's merchant class created the largest empire the world has known using the techniques learned on the high seas: much of the booty our forebears crowed about was money deftly stolen from others (who mostly stole it themselves). The East India Company gave the lead and successive governments followed.

In a recent BBC4 documentary, our history was characterised as a tension between roundheads and cavaliers. Cavaliers, from Sir Walter Raleigh onwards, rarely relied on efficiency or productivity or having the largest ships, but skirmished with frigates to bamboozle and destroy the enemy.

In the modern business world, that equates to waking up each day with a determination to live on your wits and deploy every tactic in your bag of tricks to sell whatever you have to hand.

David Cameron was cast as the inheritor of the cavalier tradition. Bob Diamond, the deposed Barclays boss, is less colourful but represents an industry that revels in dealmaking and bamboozling its clients. Each day is another opportunity to invent a form of words, a complex scheme that can command a premium over the simpler fare offered by rivals.

Financial services, the arms industry and the pharmaceuticals business can lay claim to being the UK's biggest net exporters. The balance of payments is bad at the moment, but would be much worse without them. Yet they all have one foot in the gutter."…

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Banks, drugmakers and arms dealers are the new face of our piratical past