How Barclays chiefs tried but failed to keep their names quiet

Barclays’ wealth unit alleged to pursue a "revenue at all costs strategy".

It has been quite a week for the overworked press and PR teams at Barclays, and the past seven days have offered a goldmine of stories for Barclays’ watchers.

The latest comedy cuts story featuring Barclays relates to its publicity shy executives and former-execs such as former CEO Bob Diamond applying - and mercifully failing – to keep their names out of a London Inter-Bank Offer Rate (LIBOR) rate-rigging court claim.

This scandal, including claims that Barclays’ traders tried to fix LIBOR to their advantage to maximise their bonuses, is toxic for Barclays’ tarnished reputation: it has already held its hands up and coughed up a fine of £290m.

So now, thanks to Mr Justice Flaux, we know that Diamond, former chief operating officer Jerry del Missier, Mark Dearlove, head of Barclays’ money-market desk and Stephen Morse, former head of compliance, are on a list of 104 bankers who wished to be given anonymity in the first UK trial with relevance to the rigging of the benchmark interest rate.

As Mr. Justice Flaux said: “The cat is out of the bag…….it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out who they are.”

Trying and failing to gain anonymity in this case merely makes Diamond look even more foolish than was previously thought possible.

This, after all, is the banker who accepted Barclays’ ridiculous decision to award him 80 per cent of his maximum possible bonus in 2011, despite Barclays missing its financial targets and witnessing a 35 per cent fall in its share price in 2011.

This week started with Barclays’ press office trying to place a positive spin on Antony Jenkins, Diamond’s successor as CEO, plans to introduce a culture of ethical behaviour. He said that bankers had pursued short-term profits at the expense of the reputation of the bank: Gosh, really?

Jenkins will say more on 12 February when he reveals a strategic plan: bank speak for how to increase profits with fewer staff.

Already, several thousand Barclays’ employees face an uncertain future as the bank has kicked off a consultation process as part of a formal review of its 23,000-strong investment banking unit.

Barclays’ watchers expect between 2,000 and 3,000 staff to be axed as part of Jenkins’ strategic plan.

The week continued with news that Andrew Tinney, formerly COO of Barclays’ wealth management unit, had left the bank following allegations that he tried to keep secret a report on the how his business unit went about its business.

The report did not make for pleasant reading; surprise, surprise, it alleged that Barclays’ wealth unit pursued a "revenue at all costs strategy" and that there was a culture of fear and intimidation.

There are at least two positives from this weeks events at Barclays.

The first is that Royal Bank of Scotland - next in the LIBOR firing line as it awaits details of the level of the fine it is to pay - is unlikely to be daft enough to seek anonymity for its executives implicated in the LIBOR scandal.

The second plus for Barclays PR team is that the week is almost over.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Getty
Show Hide image

Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle