EDITOR'S BLOG: Celebrating Barclays p45s won't get us anywhere

Turning on bankers, big business and politicians is unlikely to provide answers if we want an enduring recovery

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 08 May 2014

I’ve little doubt that a sizeable proportion of the UK population is feeling pretty good today about the news that there are to be 14,000 job cuts at Barclays this year. Even better that 7,000 of them will be within the den of iniquity that is the investment bank. If there was a World Cup in schadenfreude there’s no way we’d lose a penalty shoot-out in the final.

I’d thought that with the economy on the mend, banker-thrashing might ease off a trifle as people feel slightly more positive about things generally. Not a bit of it. We’re now well into the sixth year of banker-as-whipping boy and it shows no sign of going away. The bankers have provided plenty of reasons to allow it all to continue. Their Augean stable seems still full of filth and the steady flow of muck being shovelled out through the entrance continues – PPI, Libor, rate swaps. Michael Lewis chips in with the suggestion that they’ve even fixed the stock exchanges with high frequency tricks. 

Last night’s Labour party political broadcast breaks new ground in its would-be satirical bent. It seeks to portray the government as deeply unpleasant jeering toffs, torturing little Clegg, while keeping things sweet for their banker mates who have two yachts.

It’s immensely crude but, I suspect, will prove highly electorally effective in the current malevolent atmosphere. We are not going to be shaking this depressed and cynical mindset off any time soon. Farage and his sans-culottes mob will see to that. Next year’s general election promises to be very grubby and negative indeed. 

It ain’t just the bankers. The FT this week published a survey by Populus which reported that 61% of British voters want the party which wins the next election to be tougher on ‘big business’. The survey reveals all sorts of anomalies. The deepest suspicions were reserved for payday lenders (string them from the yew tree), tobacco producers, energy sector companies, media (natch) and financial services groups. More trusted were airlines and supermarkets, although the news that we’ve been fed halal meat without knowing it for ages might dent this a little

Size itself appears to be a problem for the public. Big = bad. Size = predatory. Small = beautiful. Well, let me tell you I know plenty of small companies that aren’t beautiful at all. Which is why they should and will probably remain small. They won’t grow because they aren’t very good. Why is Unilever automatically more bad-ass and nastier than the convenience store which sells good past their sell by date, fiddles the VAT return and doesn’t pay the paper boy minimum wage?

I’m not sure what the answer for big business is at the moment. Trying to do the right thing and being transparent about its efforts carries too much risk. The appetite for engagement actually seems to be diminishing. Many companies just keep their heads down and pray the shell isn’t headed for their trench.  But this is no long-term solution. If we are to recover, be successful and pay our way in the world, it will be business not politicians that achieves this.  

Meanwhile don’t forget that by the time the year is up there will be 14,000 Barclays families who may include a parent without a job. That’s a lot of 40% PAYE that won’t be collected. A vast swathe of disposable income that will not be spent in our economy. I don’t derive any satisfaction from that, and neither should you.   

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