Yesterday in Hyde Park's Speakers Corner, amongst the ranting preachers and just past the man with the 'free hugs' poster, you would have seen a polite but very disgruntled crowd gathered around a speaker declaring that he was going to withhold his taxes at the midnight deadline. An anarchist maybe? Guess again.
Billy Bragg- singer and political activist- was speaking out against the "excessive" Royal Bank of Scotland bonuses.
"This is a frustration borne out of a sense of powerlessness in the face of the bonus culture" he said.
And many share his outrage at the so-called 'fat-cat' bonuses and the glaring inequalities between the 'bankers' and the 'taxpayer'. And his huge Facebook campaign shows just how incensed the British public are.
RBS was bailed out by £117bn of government spending, giving the taxpayer an 84% share in the bank. As a condition for the governments insurance scheme HM Treasury was given the veto right over bonus decisions. Billy is calling for Alistair Darling to use this to limit the £1.5bn bonus to £25,000.
It is a bold campaign, but we should consider where such a policy would leave RBS if it was successful. When justifying the bonuses, Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS said that the bank was a "prisoner of the market". Failure to pay market rates for key employees would damage the bank's recovery.
After his talk, I questioned Billy about the 'killing the goose that lays the golden eggs' theory, cited by many critics. Could limiting the bonuses do more harm than good to RBS and the City? Thereby making it longer before the taxpayers money is recovered. His answer was "but the goose has not laid a golden egg". He is referring to the fact that RBS made some of the worst corporate losses of the crisis. He believed that with the entire country preparing for sever public spending cuts, the bonus culture was unacceptable.
Although I find Billy's courage to make a stand admirable, I can't agree with his campaign. A strict clampdown on RBS would do little to change global banking behaviour. Going too far in restricting RBS pay could seriously harm it's ability to compete in the global market and lengthen the time to repay the taxpayer.