First, it was David Cameron hugging a hoody. Now, Ed Miliband has been told to hug a banker. The Leader should charm the City , one of his MEP candidates advises, as Gordon Brown did before him.
I can think of a few bankers I could hug. Fred Parker was the first manager to look after my business when I came to Newcastle in 1988. He took me out to lunch and showed a genuine interest in the newly founded Community Foundation. A man of propriety, known affectionately to his staff as Mr Parker, he might have been surprised by a sudden embrace.
His boss, John Ward, deserved at least a pat on the back. As Regional Director of Barclays, he played a leading role in civic life and fought many a battle for the North East. His counterpart at Northern Rock, the late Chris Sharp, did the same. But those days of bankers who lunch and lead are long since gone.
I could hug a number of bank staff who work hard in the depths of their vaults and privately confess to be embarrassed at the public demise of their businesses. But I would find it hard to reach out to their bosses, who have taken away a total of £80bn in bonuses since 2008, and whose antics have brought the economy to their knees. That is £1250 for every man, woman and child in the country.
Mark Carney doesn’t strike me a huggable type and chooses his words carefully. He told Andrew Marr last weekend that “Compensation of bankers should be held back and deferred for a very long time. There should be an ability and an expectation that a firm takes back compensation if an individual is found to have taken risks or if there are conduct issues. More pay should be deferred for a longer period.”
Bankers need to take a long term view and regain their wider sense of their social responsibility if they are to move up the hugging charts again.
It is incredible that the bonus culture continues unabated and that government cannot or will not do anything about it. Personally, I don’t believe for a minute that the banks’ investment arms will fall apart if high fliers driven by bonuses moved abroad. I would have much more confidence in a future Prime Minister who got to grips with the abuses in the banking system than in one who shimmied up to them.
Would a commitment to a Robin Hood tax be a more likely vote winner for the Labour Party? Eleven European countries are negotiating for this tax on financial transactions that could raise £20bn a year but the U K government is going to the European Court of Justice to make sure the City of London is exempt.
If you feel the same about cavalier attitude of our major banks , then why not move your pennies out of one of the big four into a mutual banker? Moveyourmoney.org.uk, which is backed by ethical consumer, ranks all the main banks and shows there is a choice. With the new 14 day scheme to move a current account, it really is easy to do.
Strange to say, another banker I could hug is the discredited Paul Flowers, latterly Chairman of the Co-operative Bank. I still think he was the fall guy. If everyone whose previous misdemeanours were held against them or whose predilections for sniffing cocaine debarred them from office, the corridors of Westminster and Canary Wharf would empty fast.
There was just a hint of smug satisfaction that a bank which tried to be different was found out.
The Co operative Bank services small charity accounts whilst others, in my experience, would love to be rid of them. So I did spend twenty minutes this week filling in the Co-operative’s questionnaire about its future direction. Despite recent difficulties, I hope the Co op (old habits die hard when you can still quote your parents divi number ) persists in taking an ethical, community minded and environmentally conscious stance.
The sleeping giant of the retail world has 7 million members. It is interesting to hear Ed Miliband this week extolling the virtues of broad based mass membership in an attempt to re engage us all in the political process. Although the Flowers episode might suggest the need to revisit the election process, there could be something to be said for greater participation in business too.
One person both Dave and Ed should be hugging is Alex Salmond. It doesn’t take a Relate counsellor to tell you it is not going to help your cause to hector and bully a long term partner who is thinking of moving out. When it comes to dividing up the family silver, a counsellor would recommend being even handed in order to keep on good terms for the future.
Rory Stewart, the up and coming member for Penrith, has a better idea. He is organising a human chain across the length of Hadrians Wall on July 19th to show we love the Scots. The odd hug might be called for too.
I have booked my place in front of the television for voting day. We are in uncharted waters on an issue that could fundamentally change our lives. It is much too serious for tub thumping and there are as yet no signs of dispassionate facts and figures to help those with a vote. Those without a vote can only sit and watch in trepidation.
Readers of my last column will not have been surprised to hear that during the Prince of Wales’s private visit to Saudi Arabia, a long standing dispute over the price of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets for the Saudi air force was resolved. The Prince’s office was quick to point out that BAE ” did not come up in any of his conversations” with members of the Royal family. Nevertheless, every reason for hugs all round.