The Dark Knight Capital Rises

Knight Capital lost $10m a minute. Bane could learn a thing or two.

Spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises follow.

While the obvious cinematic comparison with an automatic trading system going rogue for inexplicable reasons and losing its owners $440m in just 45 minute may be the Skynet system of the Terminator series, we can't help but be a little reminded of a key scene in the apex of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

Bane, the goatse-mouthed villain who sounds like an evil Father Christmas, breaks into the Gotham Stock Exchange, kills some guy, and then proceeds to use all manner of mild technowizardry to make huge amounts of bad trades under Bruce Wayne's name, bankrupting him and forcing him to relinquish his place on the board of Wayne industries.

Now, even in the film as it stands, it's not entirely clear why actually does that, as his next action involving the board is to storm in and force them to hand over a fusion reactor at gunpoint, something which he could have done with Wayne present. Nor is it really explained why Gotham Stock Exchange didn't just roll back any transactions made in the period when a gun-toting madman was holding the exchange hostage and executing obviously illegitimate trades, as the New York Stock Exchange did after Knight Capital's algos went a bit crazy on Wednesday. 

But really, we now know that Bane didn't have to do anything at gunpoint at all. If he had just got hold of Wayne's computer-aided trading wing – and come on, Bruce built a computer which could spy on an entire city using intercepted mobile phone transmissions, don't try to tell us that he didn't do computer-aided trading – he could have lost him almost $200,000 a second in untraceable, unrollbackable, instant transactions which would have left his corporate reputation in tatters. Silly Bane.

Knight Capital itself certainly isn't doing much better than Wayne Enterprises. That $440m it's lost, from selling all the stocks it accidentally bought during its computer glitch, easily surpasses the company's entire quarterly revenue for last quarter. Its own shares were down 75 per cent on their Wednesday morning peak, and are likely to fall further today. It has made itself the target of hostile takeover rumors, and probably irretrievably damaged its reputation for being a safe pair of hands. For a company which once handled 11 per cent of all American stocks, it's an ignominious fall from grace.

Bane: Surprisingly inept at losing large amounts of other people's money.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.