Britain has three times as many millionaire bankers as the rest of the EU

And that's a good thing.

If there’s ever been any doubt about quite how big Britain’s banking sector is, the news this week that we have three times as many high earners as the rest of the EU put together should put that doubt to rest. According to the European Banking Association’s report on high earners (those earning more than €1 million a year), in 2011 Britain had 2,436, slightly down on 2010.

Comment has generally fallen into two loose camps: those bemoaning the wanton decadence of such levels of pay, a sore point given the origins of recent economic stagnation, and those who see the report as the cynical stockpiling of munitions for an assault on London’s financial fortress.

Aside from the justified but trite debate on bankers’ bonuses, those actually reading the report will notice how the number of high earners fell from 2010 to 2011 and how average total remuneration per person dropped by 40 per cent, from €2.3 million to  €1.4 million. This may well be due to bankers frontloading compensation to avoid the 50p tax rate introduced in 2010/11, and also due to falling profits. 

British bankers have learnt to seem humble about bonuses, even if it’s not always convincing. Stephen Hester’s claim that his parents think he earns too much shows distance, not humility, and Bob Diamond seems only partially right in saying: ‘This is going to sound arrogant as hell, but I never did anything for money.’

Even if you consider this outsize remuneration situation a disgrace, be wary before you join our European cousins in supporting a twice-salary bonus cap: bonuses can work. Their competitive element and reward for individual success can, in a properly regulated system, spur profit. The EU would stunt this system, rewarding mediocrity and failure through flat salaries. These endorse indolence not enterprise. The same green eyed emotion motivating High Earners is embittering their critics.   

Politicians make headway through headlines; looking to bring the financial services down a peg or two in the envious eyes of those outside the gilded ivory tower will receive acclaim but won’t develop the debate.

This piece first appeared in Spear's Magazine.

Alex Matchett is a writer for Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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