BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: From the web team
« Previous | Main | Next »

Thursday, 26 February, 2009

Sarah McDermott | 17:04 UK time, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Here's Paul Mason with news of tonight's programme:

"A bit nonplussed" is how one city banking analyst described his mood today, after RBS announced the biggest ever corporate loss. The reason? Well, corporate losses you can understand: "B-shares", insurance schemes and financial toxic waste are things most bankers have never seen before, let alone government. But what we've had today is the government's last throw of the dice. We the taxpayer will insure £325bn worth of RBS bad loans, and if they all go bad we could lose £305bn. If we lose it we will end up paying it out in cash, which will be inconvenient, as the sum is more than a quarter of the UK's national output. RBS will pay a fee of £6.5bn for this, but it will pay in shares. Meanwhile, the government injects £13bn in new capital and ends up owning 85% of RBS. This complex arrangement looks to many analysts like an "anything but nationalisation" strategy. The question is... will it work? The answer is RBS doesn't know, Alistair Darling doesn't know, and I don't know. We'll be speaking to politicians and experts and trying to get beyond the nonplussed stage.

Also on the programme, the first war crimes verdicts are delivered by the International Criminal tribunal for crimes committed in Kosovo. Amongst those convicted are men close to the former Yugoslav President Milosevic, three generals, the chief of police and the Vice President. John Sweeney gave evidence against them in the Hague after witnessing the aftermath of a massacre. Tonight he'll give his reaction to the verdicts. Read John's article here.

We'll be interviewing Muhammad Yunus the pioneer of micro-finance on the credit crunch and how it's affecting the third world.

And following tonight's drama Margaret on BBC2, we'll be discussing whether 30 years after she became Prime Minister, the current economic situation is making us re-evaluate Thatcher's legacy. We'll be talking to three veteran politicians.

Find out what the Newsnight Review panel thought of Margaret by clicking play below.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

And do join Gavin at 10.50pm.


  • Comment number 1.

    RBS Sir Fred,
    Not such a useless banker after all: pension sorted! But, do the director and new chairman who allowed him to leave on these terms have responsibility, maybe they should pay for their generousity with taxpayer/shareholder money?
    In some pension schemes Sir Fred would have been asked to leave "voluntarily" and would have been subject to 5% per year acturial clawback - Sir Fred is 50? Normal retirement age 60? Therefore, as he should get a pension for ten years longer, it would have been reduced by 50%.
    Has all this been sorted out so that future sackings don't get extortionate pensions?
    Is Sir Fred's pension index linked as well?

  • Comment number 2.

    [Advertisment not seen on TV yet...]

    The New 123 Nation Owner Loans.

    Does your country have Bankers debt? A poor credit rating? Trouble raising finance? If you own your own country you can release the capital locked up in future tax receipts and consolidate your debts into one easy monthly payment plan. No fuss. No complicated forms. Its as easy as 123. Call now!

    [Cut to shot of smiling happy people at a summer bbq]


  • Comment number 3.

    War Crimes ? tony blair & co ?

    On A Suicide/Suicide Bomber

    Earth'd up, Here lies an imp o Hell
    Planted by satan's dibble
    poor silly wretch, he's dammed himself
    2 save the Lord the trouble.

    R.B. 200+years ago.
    Oh how things have changed...........EH

  • Comment number 4.

    On "B-shares":

    Well placed quotation marks.

    The RBS report is frank: these shares are "irredeemable".

    They are free to opt to refuse to declare dividends for B-shares even "if distributable profits are available for distribution."

    And the dividend for that year, denied to the B-shares, "will be lost either entirely or as to the part not declared, as applicable, and the Company will have no obligation..."

    Who has the power to dare such an affront? A sub-committee of the Board.

    "The Board of Directors or a Committee thereof may in its discretion decide that a dividend on the B Shares in respect of a year will not be declared at all or will be declared only in part even when distributable profits are available for distribution."

    Board or sub-committee, shareholders cannot oppose.

    In extremis, the sub-committee dub-clause could mean that even government representatives on a board may not have the right to address the question before a decision is taken (neatly negating the fact that it is practically mandatory for a holding in excess of 10% to carry with it a seat on the board).

    When dividends are paid, they can be paid in... B-shares. Sigh.

    "The Participation Rate will be subject to anti-dilution adjustments."

    Anti-dilution adjustments exist. Reassuring in terms of capital recovery?

    "On a return of capital or distribution of assets on a winding-up holders of B Shares will rank in the application of the assets of the Company available to shareholders pari passu with the holders of any other classes of ordinary shares of the Company."

    We are suffering a serious departure from the alternative, a preference share model, at this point.

    "Holders of the B Shares will not have pre-emption rights in respect of ordinary shares."

    And voting rights for ordinary shares held by the Government now or at a later point may suffer the extinction of their voting rights in the odd legal circumstance of HMG actually becoming the outright owner of the company.

    Please forgive the regurgitation of an RBS statement that we've all studied, but it so overwhelmingly lucid upon crucial points.

    I understand the impulse to remove uncertainty concerning the fate of private shareholders if a large conversion exercise were conducted, otherwise swamping the remainder in a dilution nightmare, but, if "structured synthetic assets" are not definitively excluded from insurance cover, holding back from outright nationalisation does not carry the advantage of weaving around any poison pill arrangements which could be imagined to be possible...

    Not senior debt. No security of income. Serious tradability issues. Most definitely not preference shares. Almost pointlessly distinct from ordinary shares.

    B-shares can be described as mutant toilet paper.

    And, yet, not the element of the arrangement likely to grieve since there are more serious potentialities again yet to be definitively excluded...

  • Comment number 5.

    To return to a point from the RBS statement:

    "The assets would be drawn from RBS' and certain of its affiliates' portfolios of corporate and leveraged loans, commercial
    and residential property loans, structured credit assets and such other assets as the Treasury and RBS agree are to be
    included in the Scheme. It is also envisaged that the Scheme may include structured synthetic assets and counterparty risk
    exposures associated with certain derivatives transactions with monoline insurers and credit derivative product companies. RBS expects that the Scheme will protect: £225 billion of third party assets, £44 billion of undrawn commitments, and £33 billion in other counterparty risk exposures."

    Insuring £44 billion of lending for a promised increase of £25 billion in lending in 2009?

    Matching paper write-downs (of amortised assets) on one side of the ledger with cool, hard cash (in a lump sum) on the other?

    RBS is giving £44 billion pounds of lending out into an economic environment that Bill Gates says may last for up to a decade. The taxpayer is covering 90% of this. This is despite a Goldman Sachs report opining that corporate debt that is high-risk is going to hit a 14% incidence of corporate default in 2009 alone. And neither the taxpayer nor any Parliamentary committee is absolutely entitled to determine the destination of these funds, before or after the fact.

    Because all the facts of these agreements are going to be laid before Parliament except what is covered by "commercial
    confidentiality" agreements, according to the Treasury's January outline.

    According to RBS, they intend, to "insure third party assets". That's legal now, is it?

    Or is that jargon for asset-"backed"
    derivatives completely out of their control?

    Synthetic assets, hedges, etc., should be excluded. Certainly, at a 90% level covering terraced houses in Wickham country.

    Why 90% for a synthetic instrument and similar crud (up to 303 billion and not conceivably repayable based on B-shares)?

    And only 50% loan insurance to medium-sized British industry (up to narrow million-pound limits on strict criteria and repayable inside of a year)?

    Foreign-denominated assets (mentioned by the Treasury) should also be excluded.

    Quantitative easing pressing against the insured value of a foreign-denominated asset? A nightmare which would not depend on a bad day for timeshared Swiss ski-cabins, just a bad day for the rate of conversion of sterling to the Swiss franc.

    The RBS statement has been fair and clear.

    It is just also disturbing.

  • Comment number 6.

    RBS et al, the 'madeoffs' Reagan/Thatcher, the Bushs, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Iraq War and the current cabinet secrets scandal - conveniently dropped when yesterday's PM question time was abandoned (surely there is someone who can blow the whistle on this war secrets scandal)? It all ads up to the Biggest Swindle ever on decent tax payers. I could cry when I think of friends and family who sweat to honestly fill out their tax returns - without the help of creative accountants, notwithstanding the 'pay as you earn' tax payers of Britain's infamous 'Working Poor'... Only the so called benefit fraudsters are winners of a sort in that they'll never really ever have enough to use or worry about 'the services' of a bank or stolen funds and pensions!
    Let the riots begin!
    Do people on this message board (or the Newsnight team) have any strategic ideas of how to vote for something better at the next election given our rank and hopeless voting system. I would vote Lib Dem if Vince was the leader and if there could be a coalition with the Greens in the absence of proportional representation - any ideas?

  • Comment number 7.

    Gordon Brown and friend's slavish observance of the Corporate Nazi quasi-religion is going to cost the taxpayer an absolute fortune with no benefit to the people of Britain whatsoever. Perhaps its time to stop listening to empty headed ten bob fat cat commentators like Will Hutton ( rabbit in the headlights ) who almost lost the plot last year.

    By the time the Corporate Nazi's have finished asking for yet even more money to bail them out we could have funded something really useful to the majority of the population like a Citizens Income. How much more money will be sacrificed on the altar of the Corporate Nazi quasi-religion before the now almost inevitable nationalization of the entire UK banking system.

  • Comment number 8.

    I thought the Paul Mason piece was interesting given the time available to a complex subject. But I have to say that in terms of bank bail outs being a good buy or a bad buy I am still not certain how toxic the toxic assets are.

    All the talk seems to have been of the Scandic scenario where money was made from their toxic assets. But at this point in time toxic assets could just be a write off.

    Apologies to Paul Mason if I went to sleep at the critical time.

    I was also surprised that given the self inflicted wounds of the banking crisis the knives were not plunged into the Thatcherite policies.

  • Comment number 9.

    Well done Newsnight for tonight's item on Microcredit!

    This is a great example of a BBC terrestrial service fulfilling its public service remit - at one end of the programme Gavin Esler expressing 'disgust' over a failed banker's greed at the public expense while at the other end airing the possibility that there could be a structural alternative to the bubble-prone Western banking system.

    I would thoroughly encourage BBC current affairs coverage to differentiate itself by doing more in the way of raising awareness of alternative views and paradigms on the day's stories.

    This would be especially welcome where a story like the credit crisis gets unrelenting coverage and, in particular, where the story is one of structural failure.

    Let's hear more of microcredit, and more - why not? - of what we might learn from successes in developing countries as well as from best practice anywhere, on the BBC's mainstream news and current affairs terrestrial output.


  • Comment number 10.

    If Sir Fred refuses to give any money back, prosecute him and take away his knighthood. What's happened to class action lawsuit in the UK? Why is the law and regulation being so lenient on these bank bosses? They have caused such damage on the economy and people's lives that it is disgusting they should walk away without a scratch.

  • Comment number 11.

    Pithy, I decided to reply out of politeness (or are you happy being rhetorical?) but I don't really have any solutions, only therapies.

    Mobilisation may be one answer and in saying that I am not inciting anyone to hate the governmnet merely reflecting what I see on the internet.

    Connectedness in all its forms is helpful, whether at local level in community centres/action groups, or via the net.

    My recent venture onto youtube has been greatly therapeutic. I'm not sure why but after a few successful postings my links now bounce back, but highlights have been Matt Harding Dancing (recently shown in NY Times Sq, if you please!), Steven Pinker's lectures on the reduction in violence in the West (over millenia), George Galloway losing it on his own chat show (I'm tempted to say the Real Deal but isn't that the antiques show?). There's something for everyone's taste and it lifts the spirit.

    When you think about it, this could be a moment in which power can be wrested from the centre - who in the centre is going to argue that we can't do a better job ourselves at local level? (Point taken about micro-credit and also social enterprise is a possible route out of the mess). But in reality I expect that we will just end up with the overspill from the bourgeoisie taking control of local areas. It is already happening on my estate. The local councillor decided to move onto it a couple of years ago, presumably to show solidarity with the working class but actually we were quite happy trucking along in our own, much despised by the bourgeois but actually rather enjoyable, culture.

  • Comment number 12.

    What a disappointing debate on Thatcher's legacy. Three "never-were's" refighting battles that were finished 20 years ago. Steele offered almost no opinion at all, and Hattersley was terrible, even dragging up that 'no such thing as society' quote that he knows full well was taken out of context.

    And was convicted liar Jonathan Aitken really the best the BBC could find to 'defend' her? Surely bringing in someone like Tebbit would have ensured that some sparks would have flown? As it was, Gavin was uncharacteristically slack, laughing too much at Hattersley's jokes and treating the whole thing like a pub debate between three old men, which in a way I suppose it was.

    A more interesting way of dealing with the issue would have been to get representatives from different generations, and probably throw in a historian or at least someone less party political (rather than the Liberals who were completely irrelevant to Thatcherism) to give a more balanced overview.


  • Comment number 13.

    Great, your interview with Dr. Yunus last night!

    This is just to let you know how we've been keeping track of related news, since we organised the book launch for "Creating a World without Poverty - Social Business and the Future of Capitalism" in February last year.


    With best wishes for your excellent work,

    Organiser, Forum for Stable Currencies

  • Comment number 14.


    As it's coming up to Easter, Newsnight could have 'edgy' graphics on the studio walls depicting the Spanish Inquistors and their modern counterparts, the extraordinary renditioners. JP could preside as inquisitor - "did you, or did you ever....".

    Is this Liberal-Democracy? Is this?

  • Comment number 15.


    In the current age, the humans of Earth have formed into large, complex, 'anonymity groups', linked across the globe (where once we were small, cohesive, isolates). In consequence, 'cerebral' and 'animal' functionality are in confused, terminal mismatch.

    'Locally' we elevate leaders on an animal basis (charisma, oratory, intensity - fine for war and oppression) but, paradoxically, cerebral leadership is needed for high culture, peace (control of the animal) and sustainability.

    In UK, Westminster is a citadel of animal power - self renewing; well defended against external pressure (party system = divide and rule). I have, in recent days, challenged various Westminster groups, and individuals (over 'none of the above' vote) and been fobbed of, flim-flammed, and ignored.

    In 2005 I stood for Parliament under "Spoil Party Games". Next election I shall keep hold of my GBP-500, but will be high-profile-active, trying to make the above points. One thing that domestic animals and humans share is embarrassment - perhaps that is the way to break the hold of Westminster oppression on our lives?

    In summary pithywriter, to your question, I offer the answer: "Embarrass your MP and enlighten your local electorate"; WESTMINSTER is the enemy. Voting for a party, simply keeps the Westminster Emperor in new clothes.
    Be sure to have a pocket full of tasty treats, though; cerebral awareness is all but dead.

  • Comment number 16.

    CRAP DE GRACE (#14)

    Bravo JJ. The torture-chamber-themed walls are a masterful idea. You should be in media. And Paxo dressed in 'R & B' gear * (if you know what I mean - I am treading carefully). I have a long list of the 'usual suspects' who might actually tell the truth under torture-proper. Might the walls slowly close in as a gibbering Minister tells all about the Iraq war lies? Oh bliss.

    * Sorry Mistress 76uk - have a lie down.

  • Comment number 17.

    given the pivotal role of the banking sector it is a crime to be reckless in charge of a bank. if a food manufacturer goes bust the country will survive. if the banks go bust all the sectors will go down.

    yet apparently it is not illegal to bankrupt the country.

    any firms that are 'too big to fail' are a clear and present danger to any country that has them.

    given the civil service are masters at rewarding failure [usually with promotion] it would need a culture change to modify that mindset.

  • Comment number 18.

    My personal views -


    I don't object to people being rewarded for success , but for a average person like me RBS does not appear to be a success.

    Does his pension millions include or exclude any deferred share options he might be entitled to in the future ?

    Bank Bailout Mk3

    Well I think we need to be cautious here , regardless of what I think about this Government I do hope they have shown due diligence this time and it works.

    With this current bailout costing £10,000 for every taxpayer , how much in total are we in debt ?

    War Crimes

    I think anyone that deliberately targets non combatants should face trial !


    Was she perfect ? who is ?

    I enjoyed the program, I felt sorry for her at the end , but at some point we all have to go (the law of the jungle).

    Mr Hattersley claim that the current Banking regulation failings are Lady Thatcher fault was priceless.
    If you are reading this Mr Hattersley , read what Brownenomics means in terms of deregulation.

    Were you not told ?
    Nor was the rest of us !


    From what I heard from both guests , I agree.

  • Comment number 19.

    #14 Jaded_Jean and barriesingleton

    "cerebral awareness" is certainly warped when its from the Holocaust deniers.

    Richard Williamson failed to justify his views when he had the opportunity and ambiguously apologised. People seemed quite "aware" of the issue.

    But the Inquisition jibe is never going to square with or justify the Holocaust.

    Lessons on liberal democracy are not going to be taken seriously when they come from somebody who wants planned economies Hitler style and dislikes people "painting him darkly for party political reasons".

    "Science" when offered up against 99% of the scientific establishment (race "realism" and climate change) does not suggest high intelligence but warped personality and emotional imbalance.

    As ever you only get my attention so that people can see your nature.

  • Comment number 20.


    And quite right too! I note that the words 'news' and 'innovation' are both rooted in 'nova'.

    It requires extreme artistry to make 'the new' even newer than it already is, by default, and it would be churlish not to admit that Newsnight has 'newed-up' news of war, human degradation, political disgrace and financial impropriety, to degree I would not have thought human sensitivity could countenance. No boundary that cannot be crossed; supreme effort deserves supreme award.

    Perhaps Newsnight should be re-branded 'Innovation Night'?

  • Comment number 21.

    French child asking her father a question:

    Daddy, whats that on top of the hill?...her father replies " we hang some bankers".

    English child asking his father a question:

    Dad, why do we reward failure in this country and allow politicians to line their pockets with our money? Father who is busy filling in a loan application, replies,

    "that because we have flouride in the water...or is it aspertame? i can't remember which...pass me the remote, Sky sports is on...and pass me another beer".

  • Comment number 22.

    This is very interesting, and probably very accurate, bad news for us!

  • Comment number 23.

    #15 barriesingleton

    'In 2005 I stood for Parliament under "Spoil Party Games". '

    What a hoot!

    Why don't you and Jaded_jean stand as Holocaust deniers in future and then you can really gauge whether "cerebral awareness is all but dead" by the public reaction.

    People just can't keep up with your wit.

  • Comment number 24.

    thegangofone (#19) Ask yourself some sensible questions if only as counterfactuals. See where such questions takes you. Start with the title link here. Ask where all the people have gone (think about falling TFRs for Europeans, but also think about large scale immigration). Then look at the map links. Note the source. Note the border changes in Poland and what happened between 1947 and 1989. Note the specific UK population in 1933 was similar to today's. Note that many people died of disease (e.g. typhus, clothed were fumigated to try to prevent this), also as combatants and colaterals.

    One has to take all of this, plus TFRs in Liberal-Democracies, plus the concept of Dispaced Persons, plus the absence of solid forensic evidence, plus the use of 'collective guilt' immediately after the war for political/psychological purposes and as an alternative to something far more draconian demanded by Stalin in 1943.

    Surely if one ignores all of that out of hand, that's irrational? What purpose might censorship and censure serve politically? Might it conceivably have served to shore up free-market capitalism (Liberal-Democracy and the EU project) and anti-statism during the Cold War? Is that at all possible? If not, why is it not?

  • Comment number 25.


    Then see thecookieducker (#21) ;-)

  • Comment number 26.

    Go1 #19

    "As ever you only get my attention so that people can see your nature."

    You might like to rethink this ploy, all you are doing is making perfectly clear to all readers your own, spiteful nature.

    You are also pretty wide of the mark concerning barriesingleton, I can't recall that he has ever 'denied' on this blog. I don't suppose it's worth asking you to provide your evidence regarding this?

  • Comment number 27.

    Off Topic Alert !!!!

    Royal Mail

    Can I say I think NewsNight needs to scrutinize Labours plans for Royal Mail , it does not add up.

    They say letters are in decline , but what about parcels ?
    With the advent of internet shopping the need for parcel delivery must have shot up , there's the target market !

    Yes the Unions and Government have both screwed it up over many years , maybe on purpose ?

    Here's my solution -

    I would like the Royal Mail workers to be able to invest in Royal Mail with their pension funds.

    They will of course be able to use their shares to vote for who they would want to be on the board of Directors , the same as the Government would be able to.

    This would unify Royal Mail (workers and management) in it's purpose to be profitable and a good employer, and not be a drain on public money.

    Granted this plan would need more detail to ensure share were not sold and stayed in the Royal Mail pension fund etc , but the principle I think would work.

    It would also comply with EU's free trade rules and rulings, and this I fear is the real motivation behind Mr Mandelsons plan.

    I think Royal Mail is a important part of this countries cultural identity, I would hate to see it sold off , name changed, head office moved to mainland Europe or other cultural vandalism inflicted upon it in the name of the great EU Project.

    I better declare I have never worked for Royal Mail , but I am a customer.

  • Comment number 28.

    RE The Banking System.

    The overweight Bar steward what's his face prescot on the news 2day, got it just about half right ie grab the cash back, how ever?
    he failed to notice I have just as much against him as the greedy bankers, it grips my .... that he fails ro realize he was/is and never hasbeen worth his salt or pepper. I dont see why I would have to work to pay his wage/pension, I would rather cut my own head off and stick it where the sun does/dosnt shine. delete where applicAble. That also applys to persons of the 2 houses a complete and utter waste of fresh/smelly air. Dont ye think.

  • Comment number 29.

    AN IDEA. (#6) Embarrass your MP.

    (A General Election rallying song - tune: 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean')

    Oh why would I vote for a cipher
    Why not choose my own true MP
    That rosette means they love a party
    But the party they love isn't me.

    M-P M-P
    No Mendacious Puppet for me, for me.
    M-P M-P
    Oh bring back my de-mocracy.

    I used to love Labour’s conviction
    When they had beliefs: (shout) BAN THE BOMB!
    But New Labour came with New Fiction
    Now they cheat and lie with aplomb.

    The Tories I thought had it sorted
    And we (shout) NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD!
    Our heart they donated to Europe
    But the aliens still want our blood!

    They tell me we have other parties;
    One led by that Clegg off the box.
    He said: (shout with adenoids) I'VE A FLINT IN ME WELLY!
    But he's not got no welly - just socks.

    M-P M-P
    No Mendacious Puppet for me, for me.
    M-P M-P
    Oh bring back my de-mocracy.

  • Comment number 30.

    Nice one Barrie I know it off by Heart.

  • Comment number 31.

    NewFazer (#26)
    is all a little strange is it not? The letter is not published, just submitted, but the assertions would appear to be easy enough to follow up would they not?

    My interest in this issue revolves around whether or not it has been abused domestically as geo-political propaganda.

    I think thegangofone, like everyone else, should cease smearing and just look at the evidence for and against given pressures on schools to teach it as gospel. Just what that gospel is, however, nobody seems to be able to say, and without that, how can one say who is right and who is wrong?

    Who owns the publishing rights?

  • Comment number 32.

    erratum (#31) The letter....

  • Comment number 33.

    Just read Sir Fred’s letter to Lord Myners on [B]Preston's Picks[/B], looks like his large, inherited pension pot at RBS was yet another blunder of the government’s own making. If city ministers were informed by Sir Fred’s lawyer and two RBS board directors of the precise number as early as last October, there is not much wiggle room to appeal for the money. It is apparent that the government was simply duped and now has an expensive lesson to pay. This pension saga is a classic example of the gross incompetence and ignorance of the Labour government, and the recklessness they displayed when looking after taxpayer’s money in these trying times is infuriating. In my personal view, to claim they thought, though mistakenly, that the 16 million quid were ‘contractual obligations’ is a weak argument. After all, who has stopped them checking into the details of the contract for themselves, prior to reaching an agreement for the former boss of RBS to take an early retirement? In retrospect, they should have sacked the individuals responsible for the credit crisis in order to stop more money hemorrhaging into the pension schemes of these departed bank executives.

    The insurance deal the government cut with RBS this week was, as said in Paul Mason’s report, great deal for the bank and bad news for the British public who is underwriting its toxic loans. "A couple of billions here, a couple of billions there, suddenly we are talking about a lot of money." - when will this endless charity for the greed and hubris stop?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.