Author Archives: Steve

Yesterday, Brendan Barber, the TUC leader, criticised the high pay levels of senior executives and questioned whether their remuneration was justified by their performance. The response from the CBI was predictable:

Complaining about executive pay might give the TUC brownie points with union members, but it ignores the reality of a global economy where there is a fierce battle for senior-level talent. Having the right executive team can make the difference between a company’s success or failure, with repercussions for the whole of society, not just those at the top.

Now anyone who has worked in a British company will know that this is complete bullshit.  Most senior executives make it to the top of their organisations by a mixture of steady competence, political game-playing, back-stabbing, kowtowing, a lot of good luck and, perhaps, the occasional flash of brilliance.  A few are not even steadily competent but they make up for it by being better at all the other stuff. Large companies are bureaucracies. The qualities that lead to advancement in private sector organisations are, for the most part, no different from those required to achieve promotion in the public sector or in the old Soviet Union. 

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Imagine four US based Bolivians blowing themselves up on the New York subway, killing and wounding 700 other people, in protest against the American invasion of Panama.  Then, two weeks later, a mixed group of Peruvians and Columbians attempts a similar attack on the London underground.  The following year, police uncover a plot by another group of South Americans, to blow up planes in mid air between the US and the UK.

In the wake of the police investigations, a group of prominent Latin Americans write open letters to the governments of Britain and America, claiming that the British occupation of the Falkland Islands, the presence of British troops in Belize and the US interventions in Latin America are creating anger and resentment within their communities. Unless the governments of both countries  change their foreign policies, they warn, radical Latin American Catholic priests will find eager recruits for further terrorist acts.

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The story of the Bermingham Three has finally made it from the business news to the front pages of the papers.  The alleged fraudsters have been fighting extradition for over two years but now that their last appeal has failed, they will be put on a plane for Houston on Thursday and will probably be held on remand in a US federal penitentiary for over a year before they come to trail.

The case is controversial because the former Nat West employees have been extradited under the 2003 Extradition Treaty which the UK incorporated into law but which the US Senate has not ratified. However, today’s Financial Times argues that they could have been extradited under the previous 1972 treaty and that, by neglecting to ratify the treaty, “the senate has provided a perfect smokescreen for three men who have a real case to answer.”

The extradition of the Bermingham Three will send a shiver through the management teams in many British companies. Many UK companies are already subject to American legislation and regulation, even if they do very little business in the USA. America’s willingness to seek the extradition of foreign executives gives these regulations real teeth.
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The south-eastern corner of England is facing a water shortage this summer. Water companies are applying for drought orders and drawing up plans for a desalination plant on the Thames estuary. Journalists have stopped writing articles about how London subsidises the rest of the country and could survive as an independent city-state.  Instead, they are reviving the old demand for a national water-grid.  London may yet have to go cap-in-hand to the rest of the country for its water.

Outside the South-East, the problem is much less severe. Most of England has had a dry winter but only the area within 70 miles or so of London is deemed at risk of drought. This is partly because south-eastern England has less rain in an average year than the rest of the country.  Thames Water’s antiquated leaking pipes don’t help either. The main cause of the problem, though, is that there are just too many people living in and around London.  Like the shortage of housing, traffic congestion and high property prices, the water shortage could be eased by rebalancing the population. Read More

On Friday night, I went with a group of friends to see Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the ICA in London. The event was part of English Pen’s campaign for free-speech. Before Ayaan was interviewed by Timothy Garton-Ash, the film that she made with Theo van Gogh was shown.

Ayaan is still under death sentence from various Islamist groups, so as you would expect, security was tight. We were all frisked and had our bags searched before going into the cinema. My friend had her apple and bottle of water confiscated. The security guard said that they could potentially be thrown at the stage. We managed to get seats in the second row so I ended up sitting behind Ayaan. She was accompanied by three very tall, shaven headed men, who I assumed were Dutch police. The British police were also there in strength and the ICA had beefed up its own security. In the event, there was no trouble, not even any heckling. There were a few mildly hostile questions at the end but that was as dangerous as it got. Read More

After two weeks of rioting in France, the country’s attitude to minorities has come in for some criticism. France has never officially recognised cultural or religious minorities. The French government does not keep data on the ethnicity or religion of its citizens. It is illegal for organisations to hold such information on their employees. By contrast, in the US, companies over a certain size are legally obliged to monitor the ethnic makeup of their workforces. In the UK, while not compulsory, ethnic monitoring is considered good practice and can count in an employer’s favour when fighting claims of racial discrimination

In France, though, if you are French, you are French, that’s it. Ethnic minorities have no official status. There is no French equivalent of “African-American”, when you become a French citizen, you are expected to leave your old identity behind. Uniquely among the major western countries, the French government has no idea how many of its citizens are from ethnic minorities. This means that there can be no affirmative action programmes, no government grants for cultural activities and no community leaders filing into government buildings to be consulted on policy. Read More