Bonus of contention

Before Alistair Darling had announced the one-off 50 per cent tax on bonuses over £25,000 - before he'd even stood up to present the pre-Budget report - bankers were hitting back at government plans to tax them. Bob Diamond, president of Barclays (and recipient of a £17.5m pay packet last year), was the highest-profile prophet of doom, warning the Chancellor that banks and bankers would abandon the UK in the face of a windfall tax, and insisting that "we all have an interest" in looking after UK finance.

Who did he mean by "we", exactly? Bankers argue we need their tax revenues. But while banks paid £203bn in tax during the boom years of 2002-2007, the sector has cost the government £850bn since - £289bn of it straight from the taxpayer. Even before the crash, only the rich were benefitting from the economy's growth anyway - household incomes barely increased after 2004. Unemployment and poverty were already growing.

Do financiers seriously believe we should be grateful that RBS (for example), after its £45.5bn bailout, wants to give its investment division £1.5bn in bonuses to stay in the UK?

It seems unlikely. But even if they do, it's clear our gratitude is not the primary concern. Calls to accountants Deloitte, from bankers hoping to use the Human Rights Act to avoid paying the tax, suggest they are rather more concerned with maintaining their bonuses than proving they are deserved.

This article first appeared in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus