Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Did Dick Turpin apologise?

Yesterday, some of the leading bankers in the UK appeared before the House of Commons Treasury Committee to explain themselves in light of the near collapse of our economy due to their collective greed. Although quick to apologise, none showed any real remorse for their actions. At least two of them made fulsome apologies to their shareholders but I heard no apologises to the English taxpayers that will be paying for their greed and stupidity for generations.

Outside an RBS branch in Scotland, the BBC sought public opinion on these shallow apologies and one wag summed it up with "Dick Turpin probably apologised too". Dick Turpin was a thief, murderer and highwayman who was hanged in 1739 in York for horse-rustling. His legend is more glamorous, depicting him as a dashing champion of the poor, more in the tradition of Robin Hood.

The bankers who were questioned yesterday were a motley crew, elevated (?) to nobility (?) by the Blair/Brown government, earning obscene amounts of money and without a banking qualification between them. Rewarding themselves with monthly salaries that most people don't make in a year, these are only small change compared to the annual bonuses they earn.

The Treasury Committee investigation happens against the backdrop of announcements that these banks intend to pay bonuses as usual this year. In the case of the RBS, this amounts to bonus payments of over £1 billion being paid to the staff of a business that recently reported approx £8 billion losses for last year (the biggest corporate loss in UK commercial history), and which has been bailed-out by the government to the tune of £20 billion. When questioned how this can be allowed to happen, our government tells us that the banks have contractual agreements that must be honoured. Excuse me - did I hear that right? We, the tax payers, own 68% of the RBS - does that not give us any say in arrangements?

Since when did a bonus become a right, not a reward? Who wrote these contracts and what court would uphold them? You can write all the contracts you want but if they are illegal, based on bad law, then they won't stand up. And what on earth are our elected representatives up to, giving £20 billion of our money to an organisation without any provisos such as "you won't steal from us anymore" and "you won't get any more big salaries or pay rises until you pay back every single penny you borrowed from us"?

At the same time we hear that the FSA (Financial Services Authority) that oversaw this fiasco plan to reward themselves with £13 million in bonuses. We could be forgiven for thinking that this is all one big conspiracy of the powerful and the wealthy and that our government is as complicit as the rest of them.

As the country heads into the worst recession for a hundred years, according to Ed Balls, close confidante of the Prime Minister, jobs are rapidly disappearing as small and large businesses go to the wall. The High Streets are becoming ghost towns and local government is cutting back. It won't be long before children are going to school hungry and going to sleep cold. What is the future for them, saddled with a debt that will last for generations, supporting an increasingly aged population and a national debt the scale of which we can't even comprehend.

We can't undo the damage done by immoral shysters in suits, drinking gold champagne and storing their ill-gotten gains offshore, beyond the reach of the taxman. We can, however, insist that the rot stops now. You can start by signing a petition to stop the banking bonuses at and you can email your MP and councillors and ask for an explanation.

There are other things we can do, such as think about new economic and banking models where we stop throwing good money after bad and take control into our hands. More on this soon.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. I see a political speechwriting career in your future.