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

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses