Friday, 29 April 2011

That Hammerson vote

The defeat for Hammerson yesterday on the resolution seeking authority to call meetings with 14 days notice has passed without comment, as far as I can see. This is a bit frustrating for a couple of reasons.

First, it tells you a lot about media coverage of corporate governance issues - if it's not pay, it's not that interesting. Companies are getting quite a lot of media exposure for votes against their remuneration reports which, while above average, aren't that big. Another company actually loses the vote on a resolution and it passes without comment. It's not like it's hidden, you can't avoid it if you read the RNS statement. But presumably, even though it's a defeat (and a vote of >25% against), it doesn't sound that interesting. I appreciate it sounds a bit technical, but this result means that Hammerson has been prevented by its owners from doing something, whereas even being defeated on a rem report vote doesn't oblige a company to do anything (watch what EasyJet does in response to its defeat this year).

Which brings me on to point two. I think there IS an interesting story in this vote. I suspect that it has been driven by investors following the recommendations of one of the large US proxy advisors. If so this is a story about the changing nature of share ownership. By that I mean both the geographical nature of ownership (I reckon US investors represent a big chunk of that oppose vote) and the mechanistic way that the rights of ownership (votes) are exercised by some investors.

Of course I could be wrong, there are some big holders in Hammerson who could have voted against because they felt disenfranchised. But unless someone digs into this result we won't know.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Another bizarre vote

A sizeable 16.67% against a political donations resolution (number 12 on the agenda) at Premier Foods, but it's clearly one of those back-covering authorities. The company specifically says:
Political donations

No political donations were made during the year (2009: £nil). The Group has a policy of not making donations to political organisations, independent election candidates or incurring political expenditure as defined in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Wow! A company actually lost a notice for meetings resolution vote

Hammerson. This. Is. Stupid.

Another big vote against a 'reduce notice for meetings' resolutions

At SEGRO today. I make it 15.8% against. This is getting a bit silly.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Performativity, self-interest and pay

A while back I burbled about how 'self-interest' might in part/for some people be a norm, and Charlie commented that this was getting close to performativity. Well in Michael Callon's piece on the performativity of economics in the book I mentioned below he makes the same point (though he says this isn't performativity):
Neoclassical theory is based on the idea that agents are self-interested. If I believe this statement and if this belief is shared by other agents, and I believe that they believe it, then what was simply an assumption turns into a reality. Everyone ends up aligning himself or herself to the model and everyone's expectations are fulfilled by everyone else's behaviours. To predict economic agents' behaviours an economic theory does not have to be true; it simply needs to be believed be believed by everyone.
The other thing I have toyed with is whether performance-related pay works a bit like this. And wouldn't you know it Callon has covered this too in the same piece:
Enforcing incentives inspired by economic theories and their assumptions about human or organisational behaviours causes these behaviours to fit the theory's predictions. When workers are paid on the basis of performance, they end up complying with the anthropological models that fit the incentives imposed on them. If we consider the firm is a nexus of contracts, and we set up procedures to make these contracts explicit and to ensure their enforcement, the firm does become a nexus of contracts.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Performativity, corporate governance, responsible investment etc

I've spent a couple of hours this weekend reading a few of the pieces in Do Economists Make Markets? which I bought last year but have only recently got around to looking at. It's broadly a collection of papers looking at the idea of perfomativity in respect of economics - how economic techniques not only capture market behaviour, but also influence it. The biggest claim in this area is in respect of option pricing where the proposition is that that economic models used to price options made the market behave the way the model predicted. Interesting stuff indeed.

It's less clear to me that there are necessarily lots of other instances where something has occurred that backs the claims of performativity as well as the option pricing example. Also I can't shake the feeling that perhaps there's actually not much new here. So some of what follows sounds a bit negative, but this is largely because I'm still thinking this stuff through

First I'll go back to home turf. There are quite a few studies that claim a correlation between pro-shareholder governance, or reforms to achieve it, and financial performance. I read something quite recently that suggested that there is an immediate uptick in share price at US firms where resolutions are passed introducing a pro-shareholder reform (I think the example was resolutions seeking to get rid of poison pills). It would be interesting to look at these kinds of studies over the long term because it may be that there is now a premium for pro-shareholder governance where there wasn't before. This might in turn suggest that the increasing adoption of a view amongst investors that corporate governance does matter to shareholders has led to prices reacting to governance-related information as if it does matter. But (making all the assumptions required above!) is this performativity? The option pricing example is much more detailed, and there was, of course, a specific formula that became accepted that particularly influenced the market. But in principle is there a difference?

Similarly, in the dot-com bubble there were some arguments deployed along the lines that 'traditional' models of valuing companies no longer applied, and historical PE ratios were no longer relevant. Of course we now know that some of those using these arguments to put very rosy valuations on companies (or IPOs) were essentially fraudsters. But there were plenty of true believers out there too, and for a while TMT stocks behaved as if they had a point. Now one might counter that the TMT bubble was short-lived so not really an example of an analytical approach changing the behaviour of a market. But in return a) you might still get away with arguing it as a weak form of performativity b) some of the TMT bubble era predictions about the impact of technology may yet come true (or at least have a bigger influence) and c) in the options pricing example there have been periods when markets haven't behaved like the model. Most importantly, if we can get away with a) then I'm not sure what is really new.

Having said all that there is something in here that rings true for the wrong reasons, which is probably best illustrated by a quick example. A few years ago I listened to an SRI fund manager give a presentation about how they constructed portfolios and the returns they generated as a result. I asked if they had looked at whether their approach had an impact in the other direction - were their views significant enough or shared widely enough that they could have a noticeable effect on prices. The answer was, as you might expect, no - they hadn't even looked at it - but in a way I wouldn't have found it surprising if they said yes.

What I mean by that is that it strikes me that many people in the responsible investment world are actually (whether fully aware of it or not) trying to make this happen. There is a view that current financial markets and the prices that emerge in them do not accurately capture everything that matters. That's why we see a huge emphasis on the disclosure of more information on social and environmental issues, and the development of 'enhanced' analysis that incorporates it into valuations. Rest assured this effort would not be expended if many of the people involved did not believe that, at the end of the process, markets would behave differently. ie they don't only think that prices would be more 'accurate' or whatever, they think they could be quite different, and markets might behave quite differently too. (Someone put it to me once that the objective seems to be to put up the cost of capital for 'irresponsible' companies.) At the moment a major effect on prices seems a long way off. But you can see that in an area like climate change, where there's a bit more of an overlap between people trying to amend the system to bring about change and those simply wanting to ensure the right information is available to assist price formation, that it could happen.

It's a funny turn of events. Performativity is quite an enjoyable idea to knock about because it suggests that economics can cross the boundary between describing and creating behaviour. And, if true, that's something that can potentially be used to whack neoliberals over the head with - you (at least in part) create the behaviours and relationships you say are already there and that you claim you are merely making explicit. (Hey, you could even say it's that favourite of conservatives, an unintended consequence). But at the same time we make this attack 'progressive' (sorry) types are trying to develop new analytical processes and models precisely because they expect it to change market behaviour.

PS. Albert Hirschman (yes, him again) pointed out that there's a less talked about mirror image of the unintended consequence - the unrealised expectation. In other words what is expected to result from a given reform does not occur. Sometimes I wonder whether the results of much of the activity undertaken in responsible investment might end up under this label.

Fiduciary duty

Good piece from the Fair Pensions folks here.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Damn those 'reduce notice for calling meeting' resolutions

Clearly some people are very, very annoyed by them. Even at BP twice as many votes were cast against the resolution seeking to reduce notice for calling meetings than against the annual report. Votes against the same type of resolutions were also the largest oppose votes at Smith & Nephew and Drax (in boths cases around 8%). I can understand that some investors might feel these resolutions potentially reduce their ability to participate meaningfully, but it seems like an odd issue to take an unbending line on.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Mad sentence

From Bruce Anderson on David Cameron:
He is good at appearing prime ministerial, and it is not just appearance.
The prime minister is good at looking like a prime minister, and it is not just appearance (presumably meaning he acts like a prime minister too). WTF is that supposed to mean?

If Cameron is good at looking like a prime minister AND it's not just an appearance, isn't he really just saying that he looks like a prime minister because he acts like one (ie the former is the expression of the latter). An equivalent would be to say that my lamp is good at looking like it is emitting light, and it is not just an appearance (because it is switched on and is emitting light). You can't really claim benefit for both can you? Or are there some prime ministers who act in a prime ministerial way but somehow don't appear to do so?

More generally it raises the question of what looking/acting like a prime minister is. Since the sentence implies that it is a set of behaviours which some prime ministers might not achieve, this means that they are not a result of holding the office of prime minister, and, in turn, raises the possibility that non-prime ministers can appear prime ministerial. But then what if we had a run of prime ministers who were not proficient at appearing prime ministerial but, say, chancellors who were. Would we have to say that appearing prime ministerial was to behave like a chancellor?

I can only assume that the rules of 'appearing prime ministerial' must be written down somewhere. Otherwise a cynical type might conclude that this is just another reflection of the good breeding/born to rule type silliness that seems to particularly afflict right-wing columnists when writing about a posh prime minister.

Pensions and early access

Interesting post from Nigel here.

BP 2011 vs Shell 2009

Prompted by an email about the BP AGM results, I thought I'd contrast recent shareholder rebellions at BP and Shell.

First here's a quick reminder of the vote on the re-election of the chair of the safety committee:

For - 57%
Oppose - 20%
Abstain - 23%

Compare that with the vote on the remuneration report at Shell in 2009:

For - 39%
Oppose - 57%
Abstain - 4%

Presumably the way that Shell pays its directors must be an issue of greater concern for investors in the oil industry than how BP manages safety. OK, I'm being flippant, but it does look a bit odd.

I spose that you could say that BP already paid a price by axing its CEO (although one might also argue that he axed himself!). And you could argue that investors treat voting on director elections - where the incumbent can actually be removed - differently to voting on remuneration reports, where the vote is advisory. But somehow these don't seem to me to be very satisfactory explanations, especially given the scale of the damage done at BP.

Any views?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

BP vs banks

It's interesting to look at BP and the UK-listed banks and see how various arguments put forward by shareholders and other interested parties stack up. In both cases failure of management oversight of risk led the companies they were responsible to into serious trouble, so you might expect to see some similar arguments appear.

What about regulation, for example? Many people blame poor regulation as one of the causes of the bank failures. Depending on the place on the political spectrum some put more emphasis on this than other - I have seen some on Right try to give it star billing. But is anyone saying anything similar about BP? This isn't the first costly safety-related disaster BP has faced (Texas City for example). So why isn't anyone saying that safety regulation must take its share of the blame?

I think it's because when talking about real-life nuts and bolts stuff we can clearly see that people who are responsible for running companies must take primary responsibility when things go wrong. But people feel less sure of their footing in the less familiar and more abstract world of finance, so they can be talked into the belief regulators must 'share' the blame. I'm not in any way saying that poor regulation wasn't a cause of the financial crisis, but it is interesting to see how much weight is put on it. I don't see what the big difference is in principle.

What about exec pay? I'm thinking of two things here. First, an awful lot of post-crisis reform has focused on changing the structure of remuneration so it only pays out over the long-term, so people don't take short-term risks they know may blow up later. Again, the big difference with BP is? Why isn't there a similar regulatory focus on tying reward to long-term management of safety risk. I'm personally sceptical that tweaking remuneration changes behaviour much, but if we think it works for banks, why not a sector-wide reform of pay in oil companies? In fact there is some interest amongst some shareholders in tying more of BP's pay to safety management but a) not all shareholders like it and b) there is, as far as I am aware, no regulator involved.

Second, it's notable that many shareholders simply repeat back the banks' argument that you can't put to much pressure on pay or the talent will move elsewhere. Would they say the same thing at BP and the like? I'm not sure that they would, or at least not to the same extent. Again, it doesn't quite feel the same when you talk about companies that do 'real' stuff. Yet I see no reason why talented senior people in the oil industry aren't equally rare. It does make you wonder if people just get a bit dazzled by the money in the finance sector and, again, lose sight of things they can easily spot as problematic in other sectors.

'hired liars and bumsuckers'

That's a colourful phrase fashioned by George Orwell.

On a completely unrelated point it's interesting reading the comments from remuneration consultants in reaction to the Church of England's decision to vote against companies where bonus awards can total 4X salary.

BP AGM results

The poll results are finally available online here. I make the combined oppose and abstain on Castell's election about 43% (oppose 25%). To state the obvious that is way above average, and a director only getting the active support of 57% is pretty unimpressive. There was also a 26% combined vote against and abstain on the remuneration report (oppose 11.6%). Again above average, but we'll see bigger than that this season.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Shareholders, exec pay and the fallacy of composition

I found a really interesting bit of commentary on executive pay in BlackRock's submission to the BIS short-termism review. Here it is:
Despite the shareholder input remuneration overall has continued to increase... One of the difficulties we face as investors is that we (rightly) assess a company’s arguments for pay changes or increases in light of that company’s circumstances. Generally, companies do present strong arguments for the changes they wish to make. But our assessment tends not to take into account the impact it will have on the trend overall. Collective engagement helps shareholders present a consistent view when there is one but different perspectives are as common in the area of pay as elsewhere in engagement. We also tend to look at structure rather than quantum, seeking an alignment with strategy and a structure that will incentivise the right behaviours. Thus, there are numerous practical obstacles to shareholder oversight of pay. We do not see the benefit in widening the scope of shareholders’ role in the process.
There are two things I would draw attention to here. First I think it's a very honest account of why shareholder engagement over remuneration might be ineffective. It is interesting in this regard that they say that therefore there isn't much point giving shareholders more of a role. Coupled with the commentary about the potential ineffectiveness of engagement, that (in my mind) seems to suggest alternative measures might be required - if it is felt that there is a problem.

Secondly I think the point about the company-specific nature of engagement is an important one too. It sort of looks like a fallacy of composition type argument to me - just because shareholders get what they want in terms of pay at individual companies doesn't mean that they get what they want in the market as a whole.

Interesting stuff...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Proxy voting advisers and anchoring

Last year I blogged about an odd result on the remuneration report at the Invensys AGM. Whilst it passed, with a not to be ignored almost 20% vote against, actually the turnout on that resolution was waaay down. The company didn't disclose abstentions, so on the face of it looks like that - just for that resolution - a large chunk of the shareholders didn't turn up.

Well, when you look at publicly disclosed voting data you find that a number of asset managers did indeed abstain. What's more amongst those that abstained are those that seem to vote rather similarly in general. Therefore I suspect this result could be an indication of the influence of A Large Proxy Voting Adviser. If you think about it, isn't it a bit odd that a company with a diversified shareholder base ends ups with a massive block of abstentions? That would mean different investing institutions controlling maybe 40% of the shares voted individually reaching the conclusion that neither a vote for or against was warranted. That's possible, but it seems more likely to me that it's just people following their voting adviser.

There are two interesting things to note about this. First, if I am right and this is the influence of A Large Proxy Voting Adviser doesn't it illustrate how the likelihood of a major upset for a company can turn on a single decision? Again assuming my theory is broadly right this suggests that if the recommendation had been to oppose the remuneration report then Invensys may well have have lost by about 3:2- and it would be a FTSE100 pay defeat (of which there were none in 2010). But as it was the company won the for/against vote by 4:1 and reported only that result.

Secondly, I am happy to accept that in practice many asset managers are a little above just blindly following their adviser's recommendations, and tailor their stance a bit. But I think there must be an anchoring effect - the more (or less) your adviser recommends voting against the more or less likely you are to do so. So if there is a significant difference between advisers' recommendations you would expect to see a difference in manager voting outcomes depending which adviser they use. This may sound a bit obvious, but it is important since it clearly has an effect at company meetings.

And once again, it doesn't look a lot like ownership does it?

Full Keynes quote

Since someone emailed me for this thought I'd bung it up. It's from this essay.
The divorce between ownership and the real responsibility of management is serious within a country when, as a result of joint-stock enterprise, ownership is broken up between innumerable individuals who buy their interest today and sell it tomorrow and lack altogether both knowledge and responsibility towards what they momentarily own. But when the same principle is applied internationally, it is, in times of stress, intolerable - I am irresponsible towards what I own and those who operate what I own are irresponsible towards me. There may be some financial calculation which shows it to be advantageous that my savings should be invested in whatever quarter of the habitable globe shows the greatest marginal efficiency of capital or the highest rate of interest. But experience is accumulating that remoteness between ownership and operation is an evil in the relations between men, likely or certain in the long run to set up strains and enmities which will bring to nought the financial calculation.

Wot Keynes said

Could have been speaking about the run-up to the current crisis couldn't he?:
[R]emoteness between ownership and operation is an evil in the relations among men, likely or certain in the long run to set up strains and emnities which will bring nought to the financial calculation.

Monday, 11 April 2011


Hadn't noticed this piece in the Indy yesterday about reform of the FRC. I presume this is the outcome of that line in the 'bonfire of the quangos' list about substantially reforming the FRC.

Great minds....

Labour and Capital hereby plugs Labor Capital. The similar name indicates a similar interest in trying to explore how working people's capital can be mobilised in their interests. Go read.

Friday, 8 April 2011

NOTW ho ho ho

Time to dig out some of those comments/blogs/etc by Righties who got their knickers in a twist about the NOTW hacking stuff being 'political'. Just a couple here and here.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


I think this poll has tipped me into the anti-AV camp.
Turning to the Liberal Democrats, their second preferences now split fairly evenly, but with the Conservatives just ahead: 31% to the Conservatives, 24% to the Greens and 24% to Labour. Again, looking at what would ultimately happen to Lib Dem votes if they had to be transfered to Con or Lab, 46% would end up in the Conservative pile, 39% in the Labour pile, 15% neither.
Why should we throw a lifeline (by voting for AV) to people who would use it to give the Tories second preference votes? The Lib Dems are morphing into the centre-right party their leadership and coalition partners want. And it's reciprocated by the Tories who would also largely give 2nd prefs to the LDs (much more than UKIP):
Conservative voters are now most likely to give second preferences to the Lib Dems (41%), followed by UKIP (27%). UKIP are, of course, unlikely to actually benefit from many Conservative second preferences – what will actually matter in the course of most election counts is how Conservative voters’ lower preferences divide between Labour and Liberal Democrats – here 29% of Conservative voters do not give Labour or the Liberal Democrats any preference, 8% put Labour higher on their ballot, 63% put the Liberal Democrats higher on their ballot.
Labour 2nd prefs would now largely go to the Greens (as mine would) but because they would get eliminated v early on that wouldn't really matter anyway. So Labour voters not wanting to support the Coalition can't even make the additinal vote count.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Two EC Green Paper snippets

First on my hobby horse of voting disclosure -
In the 2010 Green Paper the Commission also asked whether institutional investors, including asset owners and managers, should be required to publish their voting policies and records. The vast majority of respondents supported such a rule. They thought public disclosure would improve investor awareness, optimise investment decisions by the ultimate investors, facilitate issuers’ dialogue with investors and encourage shareholder engagement. One of the options currently considered by the Commission would therefore be a framework for transparency in voting policies and disclosure of general information about their implementation while respecting the equal treatment of shareholders.
Looks OK, but a 'framework' sounds a bit like the ISC document released in 2007 (another thing btw that the ISC never reported back on despite a commitment to Ed Balls to do so!). Any intervention in this area should be clear that shareholders need to disclose their full record. Otherwise we'll end with lots more of the useless stuff of the type that I highlighted yesterday.

Second, proxy voting agencies (ahem....). If I was at ISS I think I would be a bit concerned by this question:
Do you believe that other (legislative) measures are necessary, e.g. restrictions on the ability of proxy advisors to provide consulting services to investee companies?
Difficult to see many people wanting to go into to bat for a model where you provide advice to both sides.

EC corp gov Green Paper

It's out, here (pdf).

Can the IIC make it to a year without naming its members?

Just a reminder, it was May last year that the formation of the Institutional Investor Council was announced. After widespread criticism of the Institutional Shareholders Committee, the IIC was supposed to really give the institutional investor community in the UK proper representation. An ISC press release last year promised a constitution and nominations committee, and an update on progress by... ahem... August. Seven months later as far as I can see there has been no public report from the ISC at all.

The IIC's objectives were to be -
to work closely with the Financial Reporting Council in promoting the new Stewardship Code for shareholders; to facilitate collective engagement by institutional investors with companies particularly in times of stress; and to provide industry-wide senior practitioner input to the authorities on issues relating to investments.

Has anyone seen the IIC doing any of this? I've seen no promotion of the Code by the IIC as the IIC. And as for input to the authorities, no delegation to BIS, the most relevant department these days, it seems.

Rumour has is that the trade bodies that make up the existing ISC have been unable to get it together. But it's getting a bit silly now. Are we really going to make it to a year since the launch announcement without any news about who is on/in the IIC? If so it may be reasonable to ask whether even rearranging the deckchairs is beyond the investor community.

Monday, 4 April 2011

In the spirit of Harry Hill...

Pointless Voting Disclosure Of The Week

This week's PVDOTW comes via State Street, one of the biggest asset managers in the world so a significant 'owner'. You can access its corp gov section here. State Street's most recently disclosed voting is for Q4 2010. It reports by exception, so votes against only, and below I've posted the totality of its report on the UK for Q4 (page 23 of the PDF if you want to check):
Err... that's it. Unless I've missed something, those four letters are the entire voting report for one quarter for the UK. So what, I hear you say, we know that they voted for everything, isn't that enough? Well it would be, if we knew what they held during the period, but we don't. And without that information we can't compare their voting with others. And the really odd thing about it is that previously they put their whole voting record up, because somewhere or other I've got their voting for the whole of 2008 in one file. Ho hum.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Corporate governance and reactionary rhetoric

As I've blogged previously, I'm a big fan of Albert Hirschman's Rhetoric of Reaction. Aside from providing a really straightforward taxonomy of small c conservative arguments it is also essentially makes the case for... ahem... evidence-based policy making. We can all make assertions that policy X would cause Y to happen, but what grounds do we have for such a claim, and if we don't enact X will Z happen instead?

It's a really useful book to read IMO if you are at all involved in corporate governance policy, for both the reasons above. All kinds of dire predictions are regularly made about any significant departure from the UK's historical course (either at the general level of moving away from 'comply or explain', or on numerous individual issues), and far more often than not very little evidence is provided in support of them.

I was reminded of all this recently having witnessed yet another retread of one of Hirschman's trio as applied to bankers' pay. If shareholders put too much pressure on, the argument went, they risk damaging the banks (because talent will flee), thus reducing returns for everyone ( which sounds like Hirschman's 'jeopardy' model to me). Again it's a reasonable-sounding argument. Why risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg (leaving aside the fact that some of these eggs have recently turned out to be bad ones...) over pay when everyone benefits if you just steer clear?

But but but... we don't know that taking a tougher line would have such a significantly detrimental effect. I have no doubt that at some point the tax/regulatory burden can become too much and people move. But where is the evidence that we are at that point? And, I think more importantly, what are the risks of not trying to restrain pay? I would say the latter is the bigger question actually. Because currently there are two propositions being put forward simultaneously. One is that if we put too much pressure on the 'wealth creators' they will either leave the UK or slack off. This is behind some of the recent noises being made about the top 50% tax rate, for example. At the same time though we are also being told that we must cut the deficit swiftly even if it hurts. In other words, we must take it on the chin but the bankers must must not feel unloved. That, I reckon, is a risky course of action, but hey.

When I look back over the time I've been involved in corporate governance it is clear that these types of arguments have been deployed over and over and over again. At each point when reform is threatened out come the claims that, whilst the intention might be well meant, action risks upsetting the delicate balance of the existing corporate governance model. Essentially such arguments betray a Panglossian view of the world. You might think the situation looks unfair but actually because it 'works' and has spontaneously arisen it's the best available, and mucking about with it will only cause trouble, not improve the situation, so don't upset the gentle, natural equilibrium.

In general I'm not that surprised. Despite some loony claims to the Right, and misplaced optimism to the Left, corporate governance is generally a pretty conservative affair. What genuinely is surprising is how quickly these lines of argument have re-emerged in the governance community such as it is, given the recent near-death experience. The banks nearly took us all down, but already those seeking to push on with reform are being presented as the threats to the equilibrium.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Stupid apartheid analogies

The more alert of you may have noticed the odd piece of right-wing commentary that was critical of Ed Miliband's speech to the march last weekend. A particular gripe was his decision to refer to previous campaigns, like for universal suffrage or against apartheid. As it happens I agree that this aspect of the speech was not good.

But what I find a bit hard to take is hearing criticisms of using the example of the anti-apartheid struggle to bolster your argument from people who... err... do exactly the same thing themselves. So I thought I would name and shame a bit.

The Telegraph
First up, and this is shooting fish in a barrel, is the Daily Telegraph. According to its leader:
Ed Miliband's attempts to compare the cause of the protesters to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa was a grotesque piece of hyperbole.

The Telegraph, it turns out, is rather fond of using the apartheid analogy when talking about the difference between public and private sector pensions. Just one example of many:
Pensions apartheid gap widens to £17,300
There are loads more. Just try Googling "telegraph pensions apartheid" or search the Telegraph site for "pensions apartheid".

Daily Mail
What about the Left's favourite, the Daily Mail? Here we go:
Pathetically, Mr Miliband even made the risible claim that the protest was ‘in the tradition’ of the suffragettes and the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements.
Again this is easy meat on the pensions front. Just one example:
DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Pensions apartheid and social cohesion

But the Mail knows the value of stirring up its readers sense of righteous indignation and has also used the term 'apartheid' to apply to public sector pay, eduation and... err... petrol prices (read the photo caption).

David Cameron
Finally, Dave had a bit of a pop at Ed at PMQs this week over the speech at the march. But let's not forget that Dave has used the apartheid lable himself a couple of times. Obviously, because it's a stock phrase on the Right, he's used it in reference to public sector pensions:
The Tory leader is convinced that the generous packages enjoyed by 5.2million state employees are turning into a financial timebomb.

He paved the way for a titanic struggle with trades union leaders by declaring: 'We have got to end the apartheid.
But he has also used it in reference to housing:
he said there was a need to end the "new housing apartheid in Britain".

He said there was a division "between those who already own their own homes and those young people who look at their salaries, then look at house prices and fear they will never achieve that dream".
This latter one is particularly interesting one as there's a not unreasonable argument made by some on the Right that politicians in the UK and US are in part to blame for the financial crisis by actively encouraging more risky lending to people trying to get on the housing ladder. Comparing not being on the housing ladder to apartheid might just be catergorised as adding to that pressure.

Finally I've said this before but the Right's use of the apartheid analogy is odd because their solution to unequal treatment is to drag everyone down to the lower level rather than raise up those losing out. These Tory Mandelas would be campaigning to take rights away from white South Africans, not to extend them to all.