HSBC’s virtue-signalling hypocrisy

Ah, HSBC. The Asian banking giant has raised some eyebrows in recent years with their endless antics to appear oh so right-on. Back in 2019, they ran a series of adverts proclaiming that ‘we are not an island’, ignoring the fact that, er, we very much are. More recently they’ve rushed to associate themselves with Halifax’s pronouns stunt and this week unveiled their latest progressive wheeze: offering ‘gender-neutral banking’. This means the bank will ‘stop collecting data on the gender of its customers across some products’ in order to provide ‘more inclusive services for non-binary and trans people.’ There’s a rich irony in HSBC now refusing to collect data on

Pronoun badges backfire for embarrassed banks

Pride month means only one thing: the chance for corporations to embarrass themselves with the latest right-on social media stunt. This year it was the turn of Halifax, which took to Twitter last week to declare that ‘Pronouns matter’ alongside an image of its new-style staff name badge, featuring the words ‘she/her/hers’ underneath. Other banks quickly piled in, with HSBC heralding this ‘positive step forward for equality and inclusion’ as ‘it’s vital that everyone can be themselves in the workplace.’ HSBC not only publicly backed the draconian National Security Law but also froze the bank accounts of prominent pro-democracy activists in exile at the behest of Beijing Unfortunately though, it

Why poetry matters

Juan Carlos, ex-King of Spain, behaved foolishly in relation to money and sex, and so his decision to leave Spain is sad, but justified. That seems to be the view of most moderate people outside Spain who are not ill-disposed to the monarchy. But it is it right? Certainly Juan Carlos’s foolishness was real, but his imposed exile (it is not really voluntary) to the Dominican Republic is not a punishment for a crime: there has never been any legal process. It is a partisan political act which is bad for the unity of Spain. Juan Carlos’s exile was forced on the current King, his son Felipe VI, by a

The perils of owning an erotic Nazi toy

My parents told me that their wartime childhoods were punctuated by the expression: ‘Don’t you know there’s a war on?’ It was used as an excuse for not attending to something urgent. The modern equivalent is the phrase ‘climate emergency’ (leading to ‘extreme weather events’). This emergency is supposedly so great that billions have to be spent on it annually, leaving little time and money for actual emergencies, e.g. floods. The stupidity of XR digging up the lawn outside the gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, needs no further comment. The event does bring home our cultural change. Shortly before I went up to Trinity in the mid-1970s, a few young

Running a bank’s tough. That’s no reason to start handing capital back

A mixed bag of annual results from the big banks. RBS, still 73 per cent owned by the taxpayer, recorded a small profit for the first time since 2008 but took flak for a newly released report on the outrageous behaviour of its Global Restructuring Group, the team that mistreated struggling business customers in the post-crash phase. No wonder chief executive Ross McEwan looked tired, irritable and homesick for New Zealand. Lloyds, having served its time in the sin bin alongside RBS, is now by contrast the sector’s comeback star, with profits up 24 per cent to £5.3 billon (despite another hefty charge for PPI mis-selling) and promises of more

White men grab the chairs

Tesco chairman John Allan provoked feminist fury by telling would-be non-exec directors, ‘If you’re a white male, tough: you’re an endangered species’ — then claimed he was really trying to make the opposite point, that ‘it’s a great time for women’. But to the contrary, this was a week in which tough white males grabbed the corporate prizes, while one high-flying woman from an oppressed minority was hounded out of her job. First, the blokes. HSBC announced, for the first time in its history and to the satisfaction of governance zealots, the appointment of an outside chairman. Incumbent Douglas Flint is to be succeeded by Mark Tucker, a former professional

Spot the endangered species: white men grab the chairs while Hogg loses her job

Tesco chairman John Allan provoked feminist fury by telling would-be non-exec directors, ‘If you’re a white male, tough: you’re an endangered species’ — then claimed he was really trying to make the opposite point, that ‘it’s a great time for women’. But to the contrary, this was a week in which tough white males grabbed the corporate prizes, while one high-flying woman from an oppressed minority was hounded out of her job. First, the blokes. HSBC announced, for the first time in its history and to the satisfaction of governance zealots, the appointment of an outside chairman. Incumbent Douglas Flint is to be succeeded by Mark Tucker, a former professional

Hollande equals Thatcher? Not quite, Monsieur le President, but keep trying

Have you ever tried discussing the merits of gun control with a Texan, or of deregulated labour markets with a Frenchman and his Belgian cousin? The prejudices involved are much the same. Many Americans believe that guns in the home and the pick-up truck are their best protection against violent attack, and that the 13,286 US gunshot deaths last year would have hit an even higher number if gun ownership was more restricted. Likewise, French trade unionists believe a 35-hour working week combined with laws restricting any company that is a going concern from making redundancies are the best protection of their economic wellbeing, rather than a root cause of

Portrait of the week | 7 January 2016

Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, decided to allow ministers to campaign for either side in the referendum on membership of the European Union, once his negotiations had been concluded on Britain’s relationship with the EU. The government said it was commissioning 13,000 houses to be built by small builders on public land made available with planning permission. Junior doctors decided to go on strike after all, starting with a day next week, after talks between the government and the British Medical Association broke down. In an extraordinarily drawn-out reshuffle, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, replaced Michael Dugher as shadow culture secretary with Maria Eagle, who was

Late news: what was really served at the Mansion House banquet

Last week’s deadline did not allow me to report from ringside at the Mansion House dinner, but there was so much to observe that I hope you’ll forgive a late dispatch. What a vivid guide to City psychology and precedence it offered. In the anteroom, Lord (Jim) O’Neill, the Treasury’s new Northern Powerhouse minister, could be seen chatting to ex-BP chief Tony Hayward, now chairman of mining giant Glencore Xstrata. At the top table, HSBC chairman Douglas Flint was carefully separated (by António Horta-Osório of Lloyds) from Governor Carney, so they could avoid discussing HSBC’s plans to move back to Hong Kong. But in prime place next to George Osborne

Portrait of the week | 11 June 2015

Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said of the EU referendum: ‘If you want to be part of the government, you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation to have a referendum and that will lead to a successful outcome.’ This caused a certain amount of uproar, with newspaper headlines saying things like ‘PM: Back me or I will sack you.’ Mr Cameron the next day said: ‘It’s clear to me that what I said yesterday was misinterpreted.’ His remarks followed the launch of a grouping called Conservatives for Britain (run by Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe), which boasted the support of

Portrait of the week | 7 May 2015

Home The country went to the polls. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, prepared by going around with his sleeves rolled up. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said that his pledges had been cut into an eight-foot slab of limestone. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, took a bus for John O’Groats. Stuart Gulliver, the chief executive of HSBC, said it would take ‘a few months, not years’ to decide whether to move its headquarters out of Britain. Sainsbury’s reported a loss of £72 million for the year, after writing down a fall in the value of some of its shops. Three tons of cocaine, worth perhaps £500 million, were recovered

Only the Tories can meet the aspirations of Ikea’s hard-working families

If Ikea were a constituency, it would be a three-way marginal. That was my thought one morning last week as I walked a mile and a half round the Batley branch of the great Swedish retailer behind two keen shoppers (one wearing a pedometer) whom I had driven there as a birthday treat. Here are middle-aged parents buying nursery stuff for pregnant daughters, engaged couples fitting out first flats, Polish families bickering over bargain kitchenware, Muslim housewives chattering behind niqab facemasks, and even what I thought might be a transsexual under a blond beehive. There’s a Scandinavian sense of equality: no fast track through the labyrinth, no exclusive luxury floor.

The Heckler: down with the actor-commentariat!

I’ve never been terribly keen on actors. I prefer hairdressers and accountants. And teachers and builders and lawyers. I may even prefer politicians and footballers to actors. It’s a modesty thing. No profession demands more attention. And no attention is less warranted. Everywhere you look, there they are pouting and grimacing on billboards and TV screens, like oversized teenagers. How have we come to this? These people dress up and pretend to be other people — for a living! It wouldn’t be quite so bad if that were all they did. But these days actors are taking over our public space in a way that is unsettling and impossible to

Keep trolling the politicians, Twitter

A politician’s life on Twitter is rarely uneventful. I have written in defence of all the goodwill and positive communication this election has seen on social media. But slip-ups are costly. As the election gets closer and the debates, broadcasts and gaffes begin, Twitter is watching. My research group CASM looked at how the #BattleForNumber10 went down on Twitter yesterday evening, running an analysis with Qlik during the debates to track the ‘boos’ and the ‘cheers’ being sent during the hour. The results gave it to Ed, but the most striking aspect of the chart was the hammering Cameron took as he was mauled by Paxman (who himself was roundly

Portrait of the week | 19 March 2015

Home In a Budget intended to have ‘no gimmicks, no giveaways’, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, offered pensioners with annuities the chance to cash them in and blow the lot. Borrowing in the coming year would be a fraction of a billion less than feared and the annual deficit was to be eliminated by 2019. The income tax personal allowance was raised. Business rates were to be reviewed. Duty on beer, cider and spirits came down a touch, but not on wine. A higher bank levy was predicted to raise £900 million. North Sea oil and gas producers were offered tax reductions. About 15 million people would have to

Won’t someone please unleash the challenger banks?

In my Yorkshire town of Helmsley the NatWest branch, originally an outpost of Beckett & Co of Leeds, has closed down — collateral damage of its crippled parent RBS’s continuing struggle for viability. Our branch of the Australian-owned Yorkshire Bank, descendant of the West Riding Penny Savings institution, became an antique shop some time ago. HSBC, formerly Midland, is now a hairdressing salon. When they arrived a century ago, all three were ‘challenger banks’ of their day. But now they have gone, no challengers have ridden in to replace them — unless we count Handelsbanken, the progressively old-fashioned Swedish retail bank that has a thriving franchise down the road at

Who on earth does Margaret Hodge think she is?

Most people, when they hear the word populist, will think of Marine Le Pen going mad about Muslim immigrants or a Ukipper saying he wouldn’t want an Albanian living next door. But yesterday we witnessed a different kind of populism: the deceptively right-on variety, which aims its black-and-white moralistic fury not at cash-starved people at the bottom of society, but at wealthy individuals at the top. The purveyor of populism this time was Margaret Hodge, panto queen of the Public Accounts Committee, her target was some HSBC suits, and it made for an unedifying spectacle. Hodge has in recent years become Parliament’s poundshop Robespierre, a one-woman mopper-up of moral rot in

Watch out: Standard Chartered is even trickier to manage than credit default swaps

One day you’re an elder statesman, chairing top committees and pontificating on Question Time, and the next you’re out in the cold, reading terrible headlines about yourself in the newspapers you’re trying to sleep under on a park bench. Well, perhaps not as bad as that — but as it is for former foreign secretaries, so it is for overseas bankers. Standard Chartered chief executive Peter Sands, I wrote in 2012, was ‘one of the few British bankers whose reputation has actually risen in recent years’; his bank was a ‘dull old dog’, but it was also steadily profitable and sensibly managed. Then came sanctions-busting scandal, unwise expansion, slipping profits

Portrait of the week | 26 February 2015

Home Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Conservative foreign secretary, resigned as chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee and promised not to stand for Parliament in May after he and Jack Straw, the former Labour foreign secretary, were suspended from their parties. This followed their being separately secretly filmed apparently offering their services for payment to reporters from the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme pretending to be acting for a Chinese company. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, declared that Labour candidates would in future not to be allowed to have second jobs. Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green party, apologised for an ‘excruciating’ interview on LBC with