Bankers get tired of being sorry

January 20, 2011

Bankers have shown a remarkable degree of self-restraint. So why aren't they receiving the praise they deserve, wonders Mark Steel?

AT LAST, someone has dared to defend the oppressed people of the banking community. On January 11, Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, who himself has to suffer the trauma of an $12.7 million bonus, said that the bankers' "period of remorse and apology should be over."

And you feel his pain, because the first words to cross your mind when you see a banker are "remorseful and apologetic." Then you're left worrying, "Oh, how I wish the poor souls were slightly less burdened with remorse about their bonus, and didn't apologize with such agonizing sincerity about putting it into their wife's name in a series of untraceable accounts based in uninhabitable islands off Ecuador."

But at last, they've learnt to stand up for themselves, and Bob Diamond has emerged as their Martin Luther King. Soon, the whole banking community will declare: "Say it out loud, I'm $43 million in the black, and I'm proud."

Eventually, some of them will feel able to come forward with stories of their plight, of how they were ashamed to tell even their parents they were a hedge fund manager, and at weekends, they would lie to their friends by saying they were putting up shelves, when in fact they were flying to the Indian Ocean to buy one of the Maldive Islands.

Already, bankers' rights activist Lord Jones of HSBC has protested that bankers who received smaller bonuses last year received "not one jot of praise." Isn't that always the way? It was the same with Ronnie Biggs. Everyone goes on about the year he robbed a train, but no one gives him credit for all the years he didn't rob any trains.

So is it any wonder the bankers have reverted and taken $11.1 billion in bonuses this year? Because last year, they received the much more frugal sum of $11.1 billion, which may look the same but that doesn't take into account the higher remorse rate and the punitively high apology index.

IN THE Independent, David Buik, a market analyst with BGC Partners, showed his analytical skills with a detailed economic response to the bonuses: "Life is not fair...Folks, get over it! Let's move on!" This is why we have to pay seemingly vast sums to people in the City, because you wouldn't get that level of fiscal genius from any idiot down the pub.

So at last, the bankers may win the human rights they deserve, as even Prime Minister David Cameron seems likely to back down. According to a Daily Telegraph headline yesterday, "Cameron admits defeat over bonuses for bankers."

This shows how flexible Cameron can be, because he fought so hard to reduce those bonuses, asking the bankers as many as one time if they wouldn't mind reducing them, although it didn't really matter. But when the bankers resisted through the wily tactic of taking no notice, he showed he was prepared to think again. But Nick Clegg is still as tough as ever, insisting if they want to swipe this much again, that "the key issue is to be sensitive."

So now, the same attitudes will probably trickle down to the poor. The government will scrap their plans for cutting housing benefit and replace it with a voluntary scheme in which they ask claimants whether they fancy receiving less. And instead of student tuition fees, there will be a "graduation loan scheme" in which students are asked to loan a sum of their choosing to the government, unless they'd rather not.

Then the head of the CBI will present a series of adverts about benefit fraud, in which he'll say: "This man claimed unemployment benefit for six months while he was driving a truck for his brother's removal firm. But when he didn't claim it one week, he received not one jot of praise. Doesn't it make you sick?"

Then a social security analyst will inform us that there are deep social reasons for some people remaining on benefits, which is "Life isn't fair, get over it," and Nick Clegg will insist that when someone's caught claiming $12.7 million in disability benefit while they're training to compete as an Olympic triple jumper, the key issue is they should try and be a bit sensitive.

Further Reading

From the archives