The Great Debate UK

Don’t cry for me RBS

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“Don’t cry for me, RBS” could certainly be the lament being sung by Stephen Hester, outgoing CEO of bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland, after the shock announcement that he will have left the bank by the end of this year. CEOs of banks come and go; however, the government stake in RBS makes this CEO particularly important.
There are two things that make Hester’s departure fascinating: firstly, the fact that the RBS board along with the Treasury have concentrated on how a new leader is needed to privatise the bank. Secondly, the fact that Hester doesn’t seem to want to go.

During an interview with BBC Radio 4 less than 24 hours after the announcement was made, Hester admitted that he wanted to take the bank through its privatisation process “for me that would have been the end of the journey.” However, that was not meant to be, and he said he “understood” that “new blood” at RBS was a good thing.

Did he have a spat with Georgie-boy at the Treasury? Did he ask for a bigger bonus or was he planning on an off-shore tax account? Did he have something in his past that made him a media risk? We will likely never know. The RBS Chairman, Sir Phillip Hampton, sounded fairly shell shocked in an interview soon after the announcement. He feebly mentioned that Hester had been in the job for 5-years, he was 52 and so the time was right for him to leave, after all, CEO’s only tend to stay in their roles for 5-ish years, he added. Maybe Hampton needs to be worried – he is 59 and has been at the bank for 4 years…

But while we can speculate on the political interference or not of Hester’s departure, there are a couple of concerning points that I, as a British taxpayer, want answered about RBS.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

When illogical policy seems to work

It’s cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work. How often do you hear a sentence like this, to describe a government initiative or economic policy?  Not often enough.

The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Buying into Big Brother

Whatever high crimes and misdemeanors the National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden may or may not have perpetrated, he has at least in one regard done us all a favor. He has reminded us that we are all victims of unwarranted and inexcusable invasions of privacy by companies who collect our data as they do business with us.

Some, like Google and Facebook, pose primarily as software companies when their main revenue source, and their main business, is to mine data and sell advertisers access to customers. We knew this already, of course, though it seems many of us would prefer to forget the true nature of the technology firms that have boomed in the last decade. Seduced by their dazzling baubles, we have bought in to Big Brother without truly understanding the true price we are paying and will continue to pay for access to their brave new world.

from Jack Shafer:

Edward Snowden and the selective targeting of leaks

Edward Snowden's expansive disclosures to the Guardian and the Washington Post about various National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have only two corollaries in contemporary history—the classified cache Bradley Manning allegedly released to WikiLeaks a few years ago and Daniel Ellsberg's dissemination of the voluminous Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971.

Leakers like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg don't merely risk being called narcissists, traitors or mental cases for having liberated state secrets for public scrutiny. They absolutely guarantee it. In the last two days, the New York Times'David Brooks, Politico's Roger Simon, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen and others have vilified Snowden for revealing the government's aggressive spying on its own citizens, calling him self-indulgent, a loser and a narcissist.

Do you want shares in RBS and Lloyds?

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By Matt Scuffham, UK Banking Correspondent.

The government should hand most of its shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group to the public, an influential political think tank says, in what would be the country’s biggest privatisation.

The proposal would enable 48 million taxpayers to apply for shares at no initial cost and with no risk attached, the think tank said. A ‘floor price’ would be set and taxpayers would make a profit on any rise in the shares above that level.

US-China research ties should be a wake-up call to Europe

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–Dirk Jan van den Berg is President of Delft University of Technology, and was formerly the Dutch Ambassador to China and the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Despite much media attention on disagreements, ranging from Taiwan to alleged cyber-attacks, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama prepare for their first major summit meeting in California, there is a relatively new and growing basis for warmer ties: scientific and technological collaboration. 

from The Great Debate:

Addressing China’s ‘soft power deficit’

Xi Jinping (L) met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2012.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his landmark summit with President Barack Obama in California Friday and Saturday, the critical mission of improving China’s image in the world could well be uppermost in his mind.

from The Great Debate:

A cry for worker fairness

People rescue a garment worker trapped under rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Bira

The tragedy at the Rana Plaza clothing factory was a sober reminder that Bangladeshi garment workers still lack basic rights and protections. My mother was a seamstress. She worked in the textile factories of northern New Jersey. I saw how hard and tiring her work was. But it was never lethal. And it shouldn’t be.

How will the privatisation of RBS and Lloyds affect gilt supply?

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–Sam Hill is UK Fixed Income Strategist at RBC Capital Markets. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The return of RBS and Lloyds to the private sector is moving up the agenda but as the UK government prepares to set out the strategy for privatisation, the spotlight will, once again, fall on the gilt market and the public finances.

from The Great Debate:

Bradley Manning and the real war on leaks

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning in handcuffs for his motion hearing in Fort Meade in Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana

The most significant dispute over leaks this week is not in Washington, where Attorney General Eric Holder is under fire for the searches of journalists' files. It's 40 miles north in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning begins Monday.

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