Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Mark Steel: At least the City doesn't go on strike

You almost want to shake their hands in admiration. The total amount of city bonuses for the last year, it turns out, is £12.6bn.

Which is more, apparently, than the nation's entire budget for transport. And you can be certain some bankers will hear that and think: "That's outrageous – if the economy didn't waste all that money on buses we could be paid what we're really worth."

And despite being the most vastly paid section of society, no one can explain a single thing they do that's of any value at all. If they had their bonuses stopped they could hardly go on strike, as it's unlikely that it would cause much of an emergency, with people appearing on the news to say: "Unless they get back to buying files of bonds and selling them half an hour later for three million pounds profit, I'm going to run out of share speculation, and I can't put up with that, as I've got three kids."

So it's doubtful the army would have to be brought in, with a general giving a briefing: "Men – this is a mission none of us ever wished to have to undertake. But it is our solemn duty to provide the service to Queen and country currently remaining unfilled by those people normally charged with the task. The Duke of Sutherland's third fusiliers will scream: "Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell!", and it will then fall to Her Majesty's ninth dragoon guards to get pissed and spray vintage champagne at a woman's cleavage.

But they try to justify it. So Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, said the bonuses are "a very effective way of motivating employees". In which case it's a good job the rest of the country's workforce manages to get motivated without a £12.6m bonus or hospitals would be full of frail old patients squealing: "Can you change my sheets dear, I've had an accident," and the nurse replying: "Four million quid or you can do them yourself."

The CBI leader added that the bankers "contribute enormously to the vitality of the country". And they do give Britain a certain colourful charm, much like Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper.

Bob Diamond, of Barclays, must be especially vital then, as he picked up a £35m bonus for running the bank, including the writing off of £2bn in bad debts. No doubt he desperately wanted to reject his bonus but just couldn't bear the thought of failing to bring vitality to the country.

But we mustn't regulate them, because then we run the risk of driving them out of the country. Maybe this argument will catch on during burglaries. If the thief is caught running out of the house with the jewellery, he'll say: "Don't try and stop me or you might frighten me off and I'll leave the house altogether." Then the family will discuss the matter, saying: "Hmm, he's got a point", and instead warn the burglar that if he keeps doing it he'll be a fool to himself as there'll be nothing left to rob.

And now the distaste for these bankers has become so great that even the Prime Minister and Chancellor are denouncing "bonus culture" – although it's them who've spent the last 11 years nurturing and encouraging it. Not only that, but they're the bloody government; if they don't like it, unlike the rest of us, they could do something to stop it. But they only say this because they know it's now in tune with popular sentiment.

Maybe this is the strategy to revive their popularity, by repeating the majority's view, and Brown's next speech will begin: "Ooh, isn't that Gordon Brown a disaster. The sooner he's gone the better."

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