Bank bonuses make a mockery of the Tories' rhetoric

Payments hit £14bn despite the coalition's pledge to block "unacceptable bonuses".

We've already highlighted five stories that slipped under the radar this week as the phone hacking scandal gathered pace. Here's another one: figures from the ONS show that bank bonuses totalled £14bn this year, unchanged from the previous year and higher than the 2008-09 figure of £12 billion. Significantly, the bonus pool is now 58 per cent higher than in 2000-01. Banks and insurance companies paid 40 per cent of all bonuses despite employing only 4 per cent of the workforce.

It's further evidence of the gap between the Tories' tough rhetoric in opposition and their inaction in power. In 2009, George Osborne called for a ban on bonuses at banks that had received any sort of government guarantee. He told the Guardian:

It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees ... It must stop.

He later promised to block all cash bonuses over £2,000. Even the coalition agreement pledged to tackle "unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector". But the government allowed Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond to receive a bonus of £6.5m and Stephen Hester, head of the 83 per cent state-owned RBS, to receive a bonus of £2m.

We're not all in this together

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Bank bonuses are 58 per cent higher than in 2000-1. Source:ONS

Remarkably, as Will Straw points out at Left Foot Forward, the bonuses paid out by nationalised banks exceeded those paid out to every public sector worker in the country. The public sector, which employs 22 per cent of the workforce, accounted for 1.5 per cent of all bonus payments. But the publicly owned banks, which employ just 1 per cent of the workforce, accounted for 1.6 per cent. It's yet more evidence that, contrary to George Osborne, we are not all in this together.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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5 things Labour has blamed for the Copeland by-election defeat

Other than Labour, of course. 

In the early hours of Friday morning, Labour activists in Copeland received a crushing blow, when they lost a long-held constituency to the Tories

As the news sank in, everyone from the leadership down began sharing their views on what went wrong. 

Some Labour MPs who had done the door knock rounds acknowledged voters felt the party was divided, and were confused about its leadership.

But others had more imaginative reasons for defeat:

1. Tony Blair

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Radio 4’s Today programme that: “I don’t think it’s about individuals”. But he then laid into Tony Blair, saying: “We can’t have a circumstance again where a week before the by-election a former leader of the party attacks the party itself.”

2. Marginal seats

In a flurry of tweets, shadow Justice secretary Richard Burgon wanted everyone to know that Copeland was a marginal seat and always had been since it was created in 1983.

Which might be true, but most commentators were rather more struck by the fact Labour MPs had managed to overcome that marginality and represent the area for eighty years. 

3. The nuclear industry

In response to the defeat, Corbyn loyalist Paul Flynn tweeted: “Copeland MP is pro-nuclear right winger. No change there.” He added that Copeland was a “unique pro-nuclear seat”. 

In fact, when The New Statesman visited Copeland, we found residents far more concerned about the jobs the nuclear industry provides than any evangelical fervour for splitting atoms.

4. The political establishment

Addressing journalists the day after the defeat, Corbyn said voters were “let down by the political establishment”. So let down, they voted for the party of government.

He also blamed the “corporate controlled media”. 

5. Brexit

Corbyn's erstwhile rival Owen Smith tweeted that the defeat was "more evidence of the electoral foolhardiness of Labour chasing Brexiteers down the rabbit hole". It's certainly the case that Brexit hasn't been kind to Labour's share of the vote in Remain-voting by-elections like Richmond. But more than 56 per cent of Cumbrians voted Leave, and in Copeland the percentage was the highest, at 62 per cent. That's an awful lot of Brexiteers not to chase...

I'm a mole, innit.