Three years ago those wonderful souls who sit in the House of Commons were having an extremely uncomfortable time of it. Their expenses claims were being scrutinised more than they have ever been before following an investigation by the Daily Telegraph, and it emerged that some of them had been rather extravagant in their use of tax payers money - a duck house was probably the most memorable, but we also had reported claims for washing machines, ironing boards and, let’s not forget, television porn.
The biggest gripe from honourable members at the time was ‘it’s so unfair – we are all being tarred with the same brush’. One had to have some sympathy with this view because, of course, the vast majority of them had done nothing untoward.
Fast forward to today, and it is bankers who are in the frame as public enemy number one. Fat cats who have ripped us all off and take huge bonuses in the process. Politicians see them as fair game. And not just those who were reckless with their investments, and were responsible for the economic crash that the global economy is still recovering from. Oh no, all bankers are greedy, good for nothing creatures, who should be continually punished for the rest of time. It seems that it is okay to tar all bankers with the same brush!
Hypocritical? Absolutely. Political opportunism? Definitely. Good for your poll ratings? Well, maybe not. For the pressure that was put on the Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland to hand back the bonus that he had earned is not being celebrated by the business community. In our exclusive poll last week, we asked if it was right for Stephen Hester to suffer such criticism. Over 60% of Downtown members feel that he was treated unfairly.
The business unfriendly rhetoric coming from the corridors of power last week has been roundly criticised by a whole range of business leaders and organisations, and rightly so. Hester has been given the unenviable task of turning around the fortunes of a bank that has been nationalised. We were advised that there would be no government interference in terms of the running of the bank, but last week’s events proved this to be untrue.
There are two fundamental things that were wrong about the Hester affair. Firstly, leading political figures took it upon themselves to very publicly change an individual’s employment terms and conditions (what would your union buddies make of that Ed?) . Second, it sends a message out to all those in the financial services sector that no matter how hard they work, how well they perform, and how impressive their results are, they are not entitled to a bonus.
If Stephen Hester walked away from RBS tomorrow, and who could blame him if he did, would the government be able to recruit the calibre of candidate required to sort the taxpayers bank out?
As for politicians commenting on the salaries and bonuses paid to bankers who work for institutions that have not received a penny piece of government subsidy – it is simply a joke. They may think they are clever playing to the gallery in the short term, but it is sending a message around the world that far from being a nation of entrepreneurs and enterprise, UK Plc has become a mean spirited country that does not welcome investment or promote entrepreneurial spirit and hard work. In the long term that further damages our economy – and if there is any justice damages the political ambitions of those peddling such garbage in the future.