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If we thought Hester’s pay was obscene, we ain’t seen nothing yet

It’s unfashionable to sympathise with fat cats and bank CEOs who have more money than conscience.

It’s just not done to wonder what crises of morality languish in the minds of the filthy rich. If any do, that is.

You’re more likely to tick all the boxes of public outrage if you join the righteous, baying mob and call for the heads of the hugely fortunate to be arranged on spikes at the Tower of London.

But now that Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Stephen Hester has been shamed into turning down his £1m bonus – which was to have supplemented his £1.2m annual salary – it’s worth considering just what has been at play in this torrid story of greed, duplicity and political cowardice.

He turned down the 2011 part of his bonus deal, not because he believed he wasn’t worth the expense but because he’d been forced into a corner. There was nowhere else for him to go.

Much more money squirrelled away under his mattress and he feared he’d end up a public pariah. The poor man hadn’t noticed he already was one.

But did he deserve to be? Fat City cats – and there are plenty of them – think not. But then they would, wouldn’t they?

Do they have a point though? They weren’t the ones smiling as they told that biggest of all porkies: “We’re all in this together.”

They never believed for a minute austerity had anything to do with them.

That little word “All” should have been qualified for ease of public understanding. Without explanation, how could the just short of three million unemployed and the millions more in their third or fourth year of pay freeze grasp the rationale behind George Osborne’s confusing rallying cry?

“With the exception of bankers, super-rich tax avoiders registering their fortunes and properties abroad, wealthy aristocrats, friends and cronies of senior politicians, those who can afford invaluable tax loop-hole seekers and parliamentarians – you’re all in this together.”

Now, that’s more like it.

Poor Stephen Hester was never in any doubt, he was worth better than thrift. All fat cats know the score. One rule of economics does not fit all. Never did. End of.

He was worth more than austerity. He was bigger than a need to make sacrifices. That was why – via his government – we were paying him so much as caretaker of RBS. The people’s bank, give or take 18 or 20 per cent.

His contract, signed in good faith with a government, reflected his standing as a very important man deserving of enormous reward –with or without success.

He was, as the envious among us will assert through gritted teeth, sorted.

But Stephen Hester – by no means the only overpaid banker in this debt-ridden country – has been singled out as the new Gordon Gekko. Rather unfairly actually.

Remember Gordon? He was the one in Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street who preached aggressively that “Greed is good.”

In the film’s sequel: Money Never Sleeps, Gekko, recently released from prison, adds a rider to his old sermon.

“I used to say greed was good. Now greed is legal.”

It is too. And in the rarified banking world there is bound to be bewilderment about the targeted demonising of Stephen Hester, who isn’t earning nearly so much as some of his fellow CEOs in the City.

He didn’t exactly walk into this mess all on his own. But did his political pals give him a steer when he found himself in contracted bonus hot water?

Not a bit of it. They hung him out to dry. Told him to make his own decision.

Even though they/we owned the largest part of that bailed out bank, they gave not a clue as to how they/we were prepared to tackle the gross inequality in this country that allows a minority of people to drown in their eye-watering fortunes, while tens of thousands struggle to keep roofs over their heads through withdrawn jobs and benefits.

David Cameron backed off from Stephen Hester’s distressing position as national fall-guy, big time.

He reminded me of my first editor who, when there was a crisis, used to advise sagely: “Just do what’s best for t’paper, lass.”

In the end, Stephen Hester did what was best to avoid sinking still deeper into hot soup.

He did what he could in the limited best interests of RBS and to avoid making his government look even more ineffectual than it already has done in this matter.

But nothing much has been fixed. No outcome points to temperance being rolled out across the sweeping, gravelled drives of fat cats.

Few snouts will pull back from the troughs of big money as a result of the Stephen Hester experience.

It’s hard to imagine this man poring over his council tax and heating bills at his kitchen table of a Sunday morning, scratching his chin and wondering: “Can I afford to give up £1m. Will I need to turn down the thermostat? Should I cancel the holiday?”

But maybe he did. Everything – even enormous wealth – is relative.

And when his City colleagues and banking peers collect even bigger bonuses than the one he turned down any day soon, it’s hard to think of him having to copper up for his round of Cristal at the bar – he having slipped down the bankers’ big-spending pecking order.

But he no doubt will. If we thought his pay was obscene, we ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s now time for Stephen Hester to realise – even he isn’t in this together.

Have your say

yourright adam,they are funded by the like of licence tax payers,all on very good money,there better comedians in working mens clubs.

Posted by red white and blue on 3 February 2012 at 14:53

Red White and Blue - what about them...?

Comedians on the "tele" arent usually funded by taxpayers.

Posted by Adam on 3 February 2012 at 12:52

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