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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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