If one took this small storm in a media teacup seriously, it might suggest that it could become impossible to make even moderate, traditionally centre-right Macmillanesque arguments - never mind centre-left ones - about the social and political legitimacy and foundations of market economics without being branded a "Marxist" by the politically and economically illiterate. (The over-excited mid-market tabloids might find it educative to look up their own recent coverage on bank bonuses, which has been characteristically much angrier in the Mail than the Guardian).
Yet Red Vince would seem to be in very broad company with his entirely non-revolutionary criticism of capitalism 'from within' (on which Left Foot Forward has compiled an extensive reading list). Here are just a few of his potential allies.
'Red Adam' Smith, economist and philosopher.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
(The New Statesman has more)
'Red Ted' Heath, former Tory Prime Minister, 1970-74:
"It is the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism, but one should not suggest that the whole of British industry consists of practices of this kind" - House of Commons, May 1973, on the Lonrho affair.
'Red Stanley' Baldwin, former Tory Prime Minister.
"A lot of hard-faced men who look as if they had done well out of the war”, on the Tory benches in the House of Commons after the 1918 general election.
'Red Adair' (!) Turner, former CBI director-general who has warned against excessuve criticism of the financial sector but who kicked off a significant debate in noting that some financial activity was of no broader social or economic utility.
The really fundamental question is whether the overall level of financial services pay is a consequence of the swollen financial sector which has resulted from oversimplistic financial deregulation. This is not a question that any of the politicians have focused on but I think it's an important and legitimate issue of public concern," he said, describing a Tobin-style transactions tax as ""a nice sensible revenue source for funding global public goods".
'Red Angela' Merkel, Christian Democrat Chancellor of Germany.
(hattip: Bagehot of the Economist for the Merkel and Sarkozy quotes).
With us, dear friends, Wall Street or the City of London won't dictate again how money should be made only to let others pick up the bill.
'Red Nikolas Sarkozy', Gaullist President of France.
The idea of an all-powerful market which would accept no rules and brook no political oversight was a crazy idea. The idea that the market was always right was a crazy idea...The current crisis must prompt us to build capitalism anew, on ethical foundations
'Red David' Miliband, centre-left Labour leadership contender.
“The average ratio of boss-to-worker pay among FTSE 100 companies has reached 66:1 – with executive pay and bonuses far outstripping firm performance in the 1990s and 2000s. The impact of this on pay inequality was always a moral concern, but its contribution to the credit crunch was economically catastrophic.
“I have supported calls for a High Pay Commission to investigate what’s been driving these trends. But we need a solution, not just a process. And I think an important part of that solution lies in spreading power, transparency and accountability within companies. Decisions that are currently taken by an elite in the shadows need to be opened up and brought out into the light.”
(hat tip: Left Foot Forward)
'Red Ed' Miliband, centre-left Labour leadership contender.
The differentials of 80, 100 or more between those at the top of a company and those at the bottom are just too high. And we should say it. Some people will say that the market justifies this. Personally, I don’t believe it because many of these rewards come from cosy remuneration committees where the chips are stacked on one side.”
'Red George' Osborne, Tory Chancellor.
"Let's end the big cash bonuses. If there's spare cash at the bank it should be lent out to small businesses, medium businesses, to help people keep their jobs ... This is still a credit crunch, and it would be inexcusable for banks to pay out big bonuses to their staff, when there are so many businesses that need that cash."
'Red Boris' Johnson, Conservative London Mayor, who does vociferously defend the banks against neosocialist claptrap while vociferously challenging their bare-faced greed, presumably in an entirely non-claptrap way:
"The bankers seem to be waltzing off with a song on their lips and their hands in their pockets – at least, their hands would be in their pockets if they were not stuffed with money. And when I say stuffed, I mean bulging, bursting, ballooning with the biggest bonuses you ever saw ... They need to grasp why Goldman's was recently described as a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, and why so many people nod approval at that description. Instead of planning to hand out gigantic bonuses to their masters and mistresses of the universe, they should be lending that money to liquidity-starved British businesses. It is monstrous that good businesses are going to the wall for lack of credit, while bankers are using their taxpayer-funded bonuses to pile back into the yachts and the villas.
'Red Dacre' of the Daily Mail, campaigner against excessive bonuses.
Bonuses are "surreal" and "out of touch with reality ... the bankers must be brought down to earth with a bump", Mail editorial, January 2010
and, not forgetting ..
'Red Tony' Blair with his resonant attacks as opposition leader on 'fat cat' pay and 'rewards for failure' in the privatised utilities.
Isn't it time the Prime Minister took a grip on these privatised utilities and put a stop to excesses that are offensive to the British sense of justice? ... Isn't the point one of efficiency as well as justice? If we want a modern, motivated workforce we can only do it on the basis of investment, partnership and fairness - not on the old Tory notion of greed at the top and insecurity for the rest."