Sunday, 12 April 2009

Politics versus business

Interesting to see Damian McBride fall on his sword, and the right thing to do in the circumstances. The meejah are in a feeding frenzy about this, understandably. On Breakfast, the presenter tried to get Liam Byrne to say that McBride should never work in Government or for the party ever again, which he sort of did (whilst clearly being uncomfortable about the commitment he was being asked to make). Realistically there's going to be heavy meejah flak if McBride does get a decent job elsewhere soon.

But does the same standard apply to business people who mess up? For example, one thing that is not in question in the Fred Goodwin pension debacle is that the early retirement deal was agreed to by the board. However you cut it, Fred Goodwin got a pension enhancement, despite having led the company to the point it needed state life-support. That is no question a reward for failure, and it took place in the midst of a financial crisis. It was an apocalyptically bad decision. So then should we conclude that the directors involved with (probably) the most high-profile reward for failure in UK corporate history have suffered enough by no longer being directors of RBS, or should if affect their other directorships?

Obviously I think that it should call into question their competence as directors, but actually BP (for example) is already spinning that Peter Sutherland is not under threat, and there doesn't seem to be (so far) much pressure on Bob Scott at Yell either. Now clearly there's a case to be made in their defence (Sutherland's going to retire anyway, him and Scott were not as central at RBS as MacKillop etc). But you do rather get the impression that if you mess up in business it only gets held against you at that one company, and if you're a 'name' you get to see your time out because it's a bit disrespectful to challenge your credentials. What's more you get a lot more cash for doing a bad job than a spinner.

In the big scheme of things which is the bigger outrage and has done the most damage - letting a bank destroy itself and giving the chief exec a pension boost for his hard work, or plotting some stupid (and no question highly distasteful) web gossip that never actually got aired? I'm in no way seeking to excuse McBride and Draper, just making a comparison of how we treat different types of people. In the case of politicos we seem to want to burn them at the stake, or a least destroy their careers, but in the business world people continue to draw massive salaries in other jobs despite having cost the taxpayer millions because of their failures.

Just seems a bit lop-sided to me.

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