Hester's bonus decision is a victory for Ed Miliband

It was Labour's plan to hold a Commons vote that forced the RBS chief to give up his £1m bonus.

It was Labour's plan to hold a Commons vote that forced the RBS chief to give up his £1m bonus.{C}

Explaining Stephen Hester's decision to waive his £1m bonus, RBS was clear that one man was responsible: Ed Miliband. It was Miliband's plan to force a Commons vote on the issue that prompted Hester's announcement last night. As one RBS director put it to the BBC's Robert Peston, it would have been "untenable" for a semi-nationalised bank to defy the will of parliament. Miliband probably would have preferred the row to continue for another week but this is still a significant victory for him. Like his intervention over the BSkyB deal, it is further evidence of his willingness to take on "vested interests".

For the coalition, which badly mishandled the issue, Hester's decision will come as a relief. It deprives Labour of an opportunity to inflict further damage on a dithering government. But the saga doesn't end here. Most bonuses are yet to be announced and Labour's intervention sets a significant precedent. As Faisal Islam pointed out, the logic of the party's position is that no one at RBS should receive a bonus of £1m. But around a hundred bankers pocketed that amount or more in 2010. Will Labour now scrutinise RBS pay more widely? The answer from Chuka Umunna on the Today programme this morning was "yes". He argued that RBS staff "like other public sector workers" should have their pay squeezed and promised to look at salaries "across the board".

But speaking for the government, William Hague sounded a cautionary note. He warned that politicians were not qualified to comment on "individual decisions" and the "day-to-day running of the banks". Then again, pointing to David Cameron's decision to ban cash bonuses above £2,000, he declared: "if we need to do more, we will do more." With RBS now likely to remain a state-owned institution until 2015 and beyond, both Labour and the Tories will have to think hard about how they ensure its pay is seen as fair in the eyes of the public. The government has every interest in avoiding a repeat of the furore next January.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.