Condemnation’s coming from all sides for the £963,000 bonus awarded to
RBS’s Stephen Hester, on top of his £1.2 million salary. The most prominent denunciation came from Lib Dem Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne on last night’s "http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b01bd4wg/?t=22m00s">Question Time:
‘I think there’s a sort of question of honour. Even if there is a contractual opportunity for him to have a bonus, it doesn’t mean he has to accept it. He’s already
being paid more than £1 million a year. His total package now, means he gets paid in about three days what a soldier risking his life in Afghanistan gets paid in a whole year. And I think
he should reflect on that. He is effectively a public servant in a bank that is almost completely owned by us the taxpayers, and I think he needs to think like a public servant who has a duty to
his country and not just to himself.’
And while Browne is the only minister – so far – to publicly criticise the bonus, plenty of others outside the government have joined in. The unions have slammed it too, with
Unite calling the bonus ‘utterly disgusting and offensive’, the TUC saying it’s ‘utterly unacceptable’ and Bob Crow describing it as ‘a complete disgrace’.
Some Labour MPs have been focusing their ire on the government for allowing the bonus. On Question Time, David Lammy claimed it was an example of the coalition failing to act on the wider issue of
curbing high pay, and Chuka Umunna echoed that sentiment on the Today Programme this morning:
‘The Government is the main shareholder here and ministers have said that shareholders should play a more active role in reining in excess where they see it. And in the main this is a
publicly-owned institution, and the Prime Minister and others have failed to do so. People listening to this programme will be flabbergasted that nothing has been done about this.’
But there’s been plenty of piling on from the right too. The Daily Mail’s front page dubs Hester’s bonus a ‘£1m
reward for failure’. Liz Truss agreed with Browne on Question Time, and her fellow Conservative MP David Ruffley called it ‘totally unacceptable’ given Hester’s
‘sub-standard performance’. And Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance has suggested the government block any bonuses to RBS until the Treasury has recouped its investment.
Of course, this ‘something-must-be-done’-ery has been going on long before Hester’s bonus was announced yesterday. Which means that, if the government had felt it could do more,
it probably would’ve done more. Instead, it seems that they’ve had to be content with ensuring the bonus was less than £1 million – in contrast to the £2 million bonus
Hester received in 2010. And, despite Tim Montgomerie’s suggestion that Jeremy Browne’s words breached the
principle of collective responsibility, it’s worth remembering that he made no claims about what the government should’ve done or should do in future. Instead, he spoke only about what
Hester should do, and what honour – not the government – demands of him.