Angry about bonuses? Here's how to claim back agency from the banks

By transferring your money to an ethical bank, you can make a change to the financial system.

By transferring your money to an ethical bank, you can make a change to the financial system.

A group of activists have been holding underground meetings in Old Street, London. They've been plotting the next big campaign to reform finance after OccupyLSX. I was invited to see what they were up to, and it looks like they've got funding, contacts and a sound strategy. Now that bankers' bonus season is finally upon us, they are set to launch.

The campaign is called Move Your Money. The clue is in the name. Imported from the US, activists are calling on the public to transfer their cash from large, casino banks to more ethical alternatives like mutuals, credit unions and ethical banks. Off the record they say they have some high profile endorsements, but we'll have to wait until the formal launch to find out names. They want a collective shift of assets from institutions that pay large bonuses, take huge gambles and make unethical investments to those that offer something better. Almost everyone has a bank account, so everyone has a stake.

The original campaign continues to send shivers down the backs of irresponsible bank managers in the US, as consumers keep moving their money from Wall Street to Main Street. Originally started by Ariana Huffington in 2009, a national Move Your Money Day led to some 40,000 new accounts being created last November 5th, according to the US Credit Union National Association. Meanwhile the campaign's video has got some 600,000 views and its website has twenty-five pages of press links.

A new holding website that went up earlier today confirms that this campaign is now coming to the UK. Activists say they have raised several thousand pounds from various undisclosed funders, enabling them to pay at least one campaigner to work on the project full-time. They plan to start revealing high profile supporters before they ask the public to transfer their cash during a "month of action" in March. We can expect high street stunts and public education events around the country.

There are at least three reasons why this is a highly strategic campaign.

First, it is wonderfully populist. It's a campaign that goes beyond left and right and -- given it's based on freedom of choice and information -- it's completely compatible with capitalism. It's not an anarchic call to bring down the banks or score political points, it's about education, personal responsibility and collective action.

UK Uncut and OccupyLSX have a reasonably good reputation, but they remain small groups who punched above their weight because of daring action and a hungry press. In contrast, this campaign will be judged on just how many people they can get to shift their money, forcing them to reach out beyond the usual suspects.

Second, it is tangible. Most people feel that they are living at the mercy of markets they cannot control. We've been told the banks are too big to fail, but politicians don't seem to be building a secure alternative. For many, the Vickers report doesn't go far enough. But this campaign gives people something they can do. By transferring your money, you can actually protect yourself as an individual, and reclaim your sense of agency.

Third, it is effective. Through a co-coordinated campaign, people aren't just protecting their own assets as individuals, but sending a message to banks and politicians as a collective. It might also lead the City to think a bit harder about bonus season. Move Your Money campaigners will be looking to establish themselves as the "go to" people in the media to get a reaction to these rewards. The more disproportionate bonuses are, the more support for this campaign is going to grow.

Watching politicians respond to this campaign will be interesting. Labour will be justifiably jittery about coming out against any particular banks after the misrepresentation of Ed Miliband's conference speech. But they should publicly and whole-heartedly support the principle of giving more information to consumers to move their money where they see fit.

The problem with OccupyLSX was that people and politicians didn't want to be seen as supporting a bunch of niche activists. If the Move Your Money campaign can become a truly popular movement, it will be harder to ignore. In fitting contrast to the financial system, the incentives of this campaign are truly well aligned.

Rowenna Davis is a journalist and author of Tangled up in Blue: Blue Labour and the Struggle for Labour's Soul, published by Ruskin Publishing at £8.99. She is also a Labour councillor.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

GARY WATERS
Show Hide image

In defence of expertise: it’s time to take the heart out of “passionate” politics

What we need is cool logic.

We are living through a bonfire of the experts. During the EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove explained that people had had enough of them. A few weeks later, his fellow Tory MPs took him at his word and chose a relative ingénue to run against Theresa May.

After declaring for Andrea Leadsom in the Tory leadership race, Michael Howard was asked whether it might be a problem that she had never held a position higher than junior minister. Howard, whose long career includes stints as home secretary and opposition leader, demurred: “I don’t think experience is hugely important.”

Even in this jaw-dropping season, that comment caused significant mandibular dislocation. I thought: the next Tory leader will become prime minister at a time of national crisis, faced with some of the UK’s most complex problems since the Second World War. If experience doesn’t matter now, it never does. What does that imply about the job?

Leadsom’s supporters contended that her 25 years in the City were just as valuable as years spent at Westminster. Let’s leave aside the disputed question of whether Leadsom was ever a senior decision-maker (rather than a glorified marketing manager) and ask if success in one field makes it more likely that a person will succeed in another.

Consider Ben Carson, who, despite never having held elected office, contested the Republican presidential nomination. He declared that Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery and that Hitler may have been stopped if the German public had been armed. Yet Carson is not stupid. He is an admired neurosurgeon who pioneered a method of separating conjoined twins.

Carson is a lesson in the first rule of expertise: it does not transfer from one field to another. This is why, outside their domain, the most brilliant people can be complete dolts. Nevertheless, we – and they – often assume otherwise. People are all too ready to believe that successful generals or entrepreneurs will be good at governing, even though, more often than not, they turn out to be painfully inept.

The psychologist Ellen Langer had her subjects play a betting game. Cards were drawn at random and the players had to bet on whose card was higher. Each played against a well-dressed, self-assured “dapper” and a shabby, awkward “schnook”. The participants knew that it was a game of chance but they took more risks against the schnook. High confidence in one area (“I’m more socially adept than the schnook”) irrationally spilled over into another (“I’ll draw better cards”).

The experiment points us to another reason why we make poor judgements about competence. We place too much faith in social cues – in what we can see. As voters, we assume that because someone is good at giving a speech or taking part in a debate, they will be good at governing. But public performance is an unreliable indicator of how they would cope with running meetings, reading policy briefs and taking decisions in private. Call it the Boris principle.

This overrating of the visible extends beyond politics. Decades of evidence show that the job interview is a poor predictor of how someone will do in the job. Organisations make better decisions when they rely on objective data such as qualifications, track record and test scores. Interviewers are often swayed by qualities that can be performed.

MPs on the Commons education select committee rejected Amanda Spielman, the government’s choice for the next head of Ofsted, after her appearance before them. The committee didn’t reject her because she was deficient in accomplishments or her grasp of education policy, but because she lacked “passion”. Her answers to the committee were thoughtful and evidence-based. Yet a Labour MP told her she wasn’t sufficiently “evangelical” about school improvement; a Tory asked her to stop using the word “data” so often. Apparently, there is little point in being an expert if you cannot emote.

England’s football team is perennially berated in the media for not being passionate enough. But what it lacks is technique. Shortly before Wales played England in the European Championship, the Welsh striker Gareth Bale suggested that England’s players lacked passion. He knew exactly what he was doing. In the tunnel before kick-off, TV cameras caught the English goalkeeper Joe Hart in a vessel-busting frenzy. On the pitch, Hart allowed Bale to score from an absurdly long range because he was incapable of thinking straight.

I wish there were less passion in politics and more cool logic; less evangelism and more data. Unthinking passion has brought the Labour Party to its knees and threatens to do the same to the country. I find myself hungering for dry analyses and thirsting for bloodless lucidity. I admire, more than ever, those with obscure technical knowledge and the hard-won skills needed to make progress, rather than merely promise it.

Political leadership is not brain surgery but it is a rich and deep domain. An effective political leader needs to be an expert in policy, diplomacy, legislative process and how not to screw up an interview. That is why it’s so hard to do the job well when you have spent most of your time in boardrooms or at anti-war rallies.

If democratic politicians display contempt for expertise, including their own, they can hardly complain if those they aspire to govern decide to do without the lot of them. 

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt