4 February 2012     

A symbol of the deeper crisis

by John Malloy

Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, was famously loyal to his boss.
     This was taken to such extremes that he completely abandoned any concept that he was a neutral “public servant” and became a constant thorn in the side of “wetter” Cabinet ministers, whom he chastised for not giving unswerving support to whatever deranged policy she, or her equally rabid policy guru, Keith Joseph, came up with.
     After a while a comment that was made to excuse Ingham’s fanaticism, and also keep focus on where the real power lay, was that he was “the sewer, not the sewage.”
     The same applies to the man of the moment, Richard Hester, boss of Royal Bank of Scotland, who was in the news this week because he was due to receive a “bonus” of £963,000.
     As an example of how out of touch the RBS board is, they thought this figure would provoke less controversy because it was less than £1 million.
     Factually correct, of course, but on the streets mass choruses of “That’s all right, then” were noticeable by their absence.
     Eventually Hester made it known that he wouldn’t be taking the bonus. Probably, on a basic annual salary of £1.2 million and £420,000 pension contribution, as well as a forthcoming £4.8 million under the so-called long-term incentive plan (LTIP), he could be quite confident that he wouldn’t have to wait long for the reward his unique talents merited.
     Such skills have seen him halve the RBS share price in a year and, more importantly, recently sacrifice the jobs of 21,000 bank staff.
     Despite the fact that 83 per cent of RBS is owned by the state—a response to the recklessness of the previous RBS operation, which included the genius of Fred the Shred at its helm—there was little but political impotence on display in relation to what a mere government could do in response to such City activity.
     Significantly, it was clear from insider journalists, such as the former Murdoch lickspittle Andrew Neill and News International’s favourite BBC journalist, Robert Preston, that the board of RBS had felt so confident of their dominance of their supposed political masters that they threatened to resign en masse if the Government decided to cap the Hester bonus.
     This, and its wider equivalent—the threat of a strike on capital, with which the Captains of Industry have always menaced any government’s progressive intent—emphasises where real ransom demands are made.
     The surrender to such interests has had its “high water mark” moments“ the Big Bang of the Thatcher era or the Blair-Brown gifting of control of interest rates to the Bank of England.
     Now, with capitalism in constant crisis, what those who support such neo-liberalism hope is that, in the event of obvious public disquiet about obscene payments, the personal obnoxiousness of the hunt-loving Hester or the staff-shredding Fred Goodwin can be “dealt with” by a bonus not taken or a knighthood removed.
     The task of all progressives is to challenge such distraction and keep the focus on the system that spawned them.

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