It didn’t take long, did it?

Despite the financial disaster of the last two years, and against the wishes of their European partners (particularly the Germans and the French), the Labour Government has refused to get tough with bankers over bonuses and irrationally high pay. The argument seems to be that if you disincentivise high earners, they will all scoot off to the USA and earn their fat salaries there instead. Whereas the argument advanced this week by the Tories is that if you squeeze the poorest or most disabled people, this will incentivise them to ‘get out and work’.

Boris JohnsonBrazen Boris Johnson (great character – but which pre-election promises has he actually delivered on in London?) stoutly and admirably defended the bankers at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester the other day, guaranteeing favour by claiming that to do so would turn everyone against him. What great rhetoric! Everybody loves Boris and David Cameron probably (a) fears him or (b) wishes he would go away.

But, am I alone in hearing the defence of bankers set against a squeeze on the poor or disabled and wondering where these priorities derive from?

I’d like to believe that the Tories could offer something radically new that would offer a clear alternative to Labour and bring some dignity back into politics – especially into the values that underlie economic policy-making. But, I don’t see it. All we get is the same old stuff dressed up in new language. ‘Let’s help the poorest (or most vulnerable)  in our society – by making them poorer if they don’t play our way. And let’s not disturb the richest in our society – by making them invulnerable to the consequences of their decisions.’

It doesn’t look great, does it?

Let’s get this straight. Some of my friends are bankers. I don’t have a problem with bankers getting paid for the work they do. Some bankers should get paid more than others. Big bankers should get paid big salaries. But bonuses should be rationalised and spread about the people who work at all levels of the business. How do you justify a single individual getting a one-off (almost guaranteed each year) payment amounting to many multiples of what the ordinary bank staff earn in  several years? And whose money is it that they are playing with anyway?

My problem with this is that this nettle still appears not to have been grasped. We are afraid to impose limits – even when ‘we’ own the banks by virtue of having bailed them out of the mire of their own making.

goodwinAnd when we hear about the ‘poor’ or the ‘disabled’, we are not talking about ‘shirkers’, ‘blaggers’ and ‘spongers’. But, even if we were, couldn’t we describe the failure of the banks and their subsequent cap-in-hand rescue by the taxpayers as ‘sponging’ (claiming money that isn’t theirs), ‘shirking’ (responsibilities to those they damaged) and ‘blagging’ (claiming special rights and threatening government against squeezing with arguments about ‘incentives’ that only apply to them and not those at the bottom of society who don’t have the voice or the power to claim the same)?

It’s the values underlying the policies that need questioning, not just the apparent policies. And the double-standards need to be exposed wherever they seek to hide.

Any chance we’ll hear something useful this week from Manchester other than the blindingly obvious or the obviously blind?