It’s payday for the man Peter Mandelson once described as the “unacceptable face of banking”. Barclays chief Bob Diamond won’t comment on the size of his bonus but it’s thought to be in the region of £3m.
It was Diamond who famously told MPs last year that the time for “remorse and apology” was over but, as you may have noticed, not everyone agrees. In response, we can expect Barclays, which announced profits of £5.9bn this morning, to remind us that it did not receive a pound of taxpayers’ money. Yet this seemingly plausible defence does not bear scrutiny. Though it was not bailed out by the state, Barclays benefited immensely from the emergency measures introduced by the government to prevent a sector-wide collapse.
As John Varley, the bank’s former chief executive, conceded in 2009:
There are two ways I would say the system as a whole benefited generically.
One was in the injection of liquidity undertaken by the Bank of England and a new structure put in place in March 2008.
And the other was the making available of guarantees from government for funding undertaken by banks. It is important to recognise that in each case the banks were encouraged to use these new structures that were put in place and we did.
It is also important to recognise that we were required and we did pay a price for these things, but I’m not trivialising the importance of the intervention. It was important.
Without the state-led bailout of RBS and Lloyds-HBOS, there would have been a run on all the banks, including Barclays. It was for this reason that George Osborne, while shadow chancellor, called for a ban on bonuses at banks that had received any sort of government guarantee.
“It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees . . . it must stop,” he said in August 2009.
The response from the PM’s spokesman today? “It is not for me to comment on pay deals for individuals at private-sector companies.” Under pressure from the right of his party, which accuses him of joining an anti-business witch hunt, Cameron has refused to join the fray.
Conversely, Ed Miliband has widened his attack on bankers’ pay to include Barclays and other non state-owned banks. In a speech last night, he declared: “Some argue that it is no business of the public what bonuses banks pay. I fundamentally disagree. Because even banks which are not publicly owned implicitly benefit from a taxpayer guarantee, to the tune of billions of pounds.”
The challenge for Labour is to ensure it reaps some political benefit from this new dividing line.