So four Google executives are paying themselves $15m in bonuses, despite the company's bad behaviour...

But we should all calm down. This isn't as bad as it seems.

Arguably, the two business metrics that capture most public attention in the post-2008 media climate are the value of fines levied for bad behaviour, and the bonuses paid to top executives.

The cathartic element in seeing a big company charged for wrongdoing, and the commensurate outrage of sums on a similar scale being offered to individuals as a reward for business conducted during the same period, are always bound to resonate in a climate where people feel they have been impoverished by greed on an epic scale.

So how has the world reacted to fine and bonus figures released by Google, as the web giant reported $15 million in bonuses paid to four executives, and $7m in fines to 38 US states over invasion of privacy through Google Street View?

Understandably, commentators have been quick to jump on the latter. A $7m fine is hilariously small for a company with a market cap of $274bn and latest annual profits of $2.89bn: a typo in the first draft of this article had the fine set at $7, which it might as well have been, for all the difference it makes.

The fine is far more interesting in terms of reputation than financial impact, especially when associated clauses are considered. As well as binning the contested Street View data, Google has been required to run a ten year employee training program on privacy, and launch a public service advertising campaign on securing wireless networks.

If Microsoft had been considering canning its “Scroogled” smear campaign on Google’s privacy attitudes, as some speculated earlier this month, it is likely to have reconsidered in light of the Street View fines.

But even though Google’s bonuses more than double what it has been fined, I am yet to find any censure online for the $15m payout offered to bosses. After all, even though the smallest bonus – chief business officer Nikesh Arora’s $2.8m – is dream money for most of us disgruntled mortals, it hardly seems berserk against the backdrop of such gargantuan revenues and profits.

This is certainly not news when compared with RBS, a company with a market cap of $33bn compared to Google’s $274, handing over more than $600m in payouts to executives at the same time as being fined $400m over the LIBOR scandal - in itself arguably a drop in the ocean.

If anything, the fact that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not to receive bonuses at all seems positively saintly, and goes some way to negating any reputational damage over the Street View incident.

The reason for this, however, is that both men are already worth over $20bn, making even RBS executives look like the rest of us by comparison.  With figures like that floating around, I’m surprised anyone reported on Google’s bonus payments and snooping fines at all.

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn ally Diane Abbott argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.