Humbling of our banks
The City of London has never seen anything like it in its long and illustrious history.
A quartet of our biggest banks have been negotiating all day today - and will continue to do so all through the night - with the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority about how much capital we as taxpayers need to invest in them.
Right now it looks as though first thing tomorrow Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS, Lloyds TSB and Barclays will announce they're raising up to £40bn in total.
In the case of Royal Bank of Scotland, the sum of capital it's being forced to raise is mindboggling - at least £15bn (and rising).
Which is the kind of disaster that no chief executive can survive - which is why Sir Fred Goodwin's resignation will be announced tomorrow, to be replaced by British Land's Stephen Hester (as I mentioned in yesterday's note).
Meanwhile HBOS will come second in the list of capital-raising shame: it's being obliged to raise around £10bn.
Taxpayers will underwrite or provide all of what the Banks are raising - although the banks will give their shareholders and other investors the option of reducing the taxpayer investment by taking some of the new shares on offer themselves.
It's the biggest fund-raising exercise that's ever taken place in the UK.
What it demonstrates is the weakness of Britain's banks.
And the banks that feel most humiliated by the debacle are - of course - Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS.
But its embarrassing even for Barclays. It didn't want to raise more than £3bn but it has has been pressurised by the Treasury, Bank of England and FSA to raise nearer £7bn.
This is history in the making.
At the end of it, the state will own a very substantial proportion of our biggest and proudest banks.
What a sorry end to Britain's longest ever period of unbroken economic growth.
But with any luck, it will be clear - when the money's been raised and taxpayers are standing firmly behind them - that they're safe from collapse.
I have one additional fact and one thought.
First, the City watchdog - the Financial Services Authority - has done its sums about how much capital the banks need on the basis that an economic tsunami is coming.
It's not forecasting such a tsunami, but it has sensibly concluded that the banks' foundations need to be reinforced so that they could withstand such an unprecedented battering.
Which we should probably see as reassuring.
I've also been musing on the historic significance of tonight's events, and I think it can perhaps be seen as the death of Thatcherism, or at least of an important strand of the dominant ideology of the 1980s and 1990s.
It was Margaret Thatcher who in a series of bold reforms from 1979 onwards gave the City the freedom to trade in everything and anything.
She removed restrictive practices, she encouraged the free flow of capital to and from anywhere in the world, she created the notion of the City as the Great British Success.
For the liberalisation of the City to end with a quartet of our biggest and proudest banks being forced to put out the begging bowl to Government, well that is a moment in ecnomic history - which may well, ultimately, be as significant as the nationalisations of the 1940s and the privatisations of the 1980s.
The amounts the banks are being forced to raise are increasing by the hour. Right now, it looks as thought the authorities will force RBS to raise up to £20bn and HBOS around £12bn.
And the total for all four may well hit £50bn.
Also, with HBOS being forced to raise so much, Lloyds is demanding that the terms of its takeover of HBOS should be changed - so that Lloyds doesn't have to pay so much.
The revised terms of the takeover may well be announced in the morning.
PS By the way, there's also been something of a breakthrough in Paris, at the meeting of the eurozone heads of government hastily arranged by President Sarkozy. If financial institutions aren't reassured by their pledge to guarantee interbank lending for five years, well then we're in the kind of mess that's simply not amenable to government solutions.