Good words are worth much, and cost little

— George Herbert, Iacula Prudentum, and all the way from 1651.

Last Wednesday at PMQs we had a lot of words, and discovered the worth of some of them:

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): RBS is expected to ask the Government to approve bonuses of more than 100% on multi-million pound salaries. Does the Prime Minister think that that is acceptable?

The Prime Minister: What I can tell [1] the right hon. Gentleman is that we will continue with our plans for RBS that have seen bonuses come down by 85% and a bonus pool at one third the level it was under Labour [2]. I can confirm today that, just as we have had limits on cash bonuses [3] of £2,000 at RBS this year and last year, we will do the same next year as well.

Edward Miliband: We can all agree with the general sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman expresses about bonuses, but today I am asking him a very specific question. RBS is talking to parts of the Government about the proposal to pay over 100% bonuses. He is the Prime Minister, the taxpayer will foot the bill, so will he put a stop to it right now by telling RBS to drop this idea?

The Prime Minister: I will tell [4] the right hon. Gentleman exactly what we are saying to RBS: if there are any proposals to increase the overall pay [5] —that is, the pay and bonus bill—at RBS, at the investment bank, we will veto them. What a pity that the previous Government never took an approach like that. [6] [Interruption.]

[1] What can Cameron not tell? And why?

[2] Totally ignores that RBS is now substantially down-sized from 20o8. SkyNews reported [13 June 2013]: The latest slew of cuts will take total number of jobs lost at RBS since the 2008 crisis to nearly 40,000. 

'I can't give you a bonus, but there's a £2m reward for the person who finds my unmbrella'

‘I can’t give you a bonus, but there’s a £2m reward for the person who finds my umbrella’

[3] Note “cash bonuses”, yet the top brass are loath to receive their divvies in cash (which is taxed) and prefer it rendered in kind or shares. [see Matt’s pocket cartoon, from today’s Daily Telegraph]

[4] See [1] above.

[5] See [2] above.

[6] And what would Tories have said were the previous Labour government to have interfered with remuneration among bankers?

Clearly there were:

  • two completely different value-systems evidenced here (note how Cameron totally ignores “acceptable”),
  • two totally different mind-sets (Cameron talks “overall pay”, meaning the whole wage-bill, when Miliband was specific about bonuses),
  • different vocabularies, and,
  • inevitably, different interpretations.

Hmm … surely Burke said something appropriate. Must look it up.


No, what was lurking in the mind wasn’t Burke himself, but Matthew Arnold on Burke. And it’s good. And it’s almost pertinent to the present mess:

Burke is so great because, almost alone in England, he brings thought to bear upon politics, he saturates politics with thought… His greatness is that he lived in a world which neither English Liberalism nor English Toryism is apt to enter; — the world of ideas, not the world of catchwords and party habits.

When comes such another?


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Filed under David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Edmund Burke

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