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Business Comment

Mark Leftly: Don't bank on me to stand up for the banks

Even the most ardent defenders of the system have got to concede overwhelming defeat now

It's been a tough week for those of us who felt that banker-bashing in this country had been way over the top since the onset of the credit crunch. Although we were in a minority, the smugness of our counter-intuitive (read: utterly flawed) arguments proved an enjoyably effective wind-up to more right-on friends and colleagues.

The extra £1bn and £400m set aside by taxpayer-backed Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland to cover their bills for the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance serve as reminders of just how badly the public was scammed.

And in echoes of the Enron scandal of the early 2000s, Barclays was accused of rigging American energy prices by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Authority. The bank denies this, but it hardly helps a brand that has been so badly hit by the Libor rate-rigging fines. RBS also warned on Friday that it could face stiff penalties over Libor manipulation.

All that can be said in the banks' favour is that Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio behaved honourably, having last year been the first to bow to the inevitable that banks would have to pay compensation over PPI.

The word "honour" can hardly be applied to Swiss bank UBS. Even though chief executive Sergio Ermotti insisted staff would be "treated with care" if they were among the 10,000 made redundant, they in fact found themselves locked out of their offices on Monday morning.

That is an infantile way to treat even eye-wateringly well-paid people who might soon lose their sources of income; we're not in the 1980s any more. Behaving badly is not the same as being tough.

Most worryingly of all were the three independent reports into the Bank of England that found on Friday that "centralised and hierarchical governance" were badly hurting the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. More junior staff were basically telling their seniors what they wanted to hear as this country stood on the very edge of financial ruin.

You would hope that Governor Sir Mervyn King would at least be embarrassed as it was revealed that plans for a £62.5bn bank rescue fund were hidden from the majority of his own board.

Taken as a whole, the banking system is toxic. Most of you already knew that, but it's time the few of us who defended the banks conceded overwhelming defeat.

Time for gay business leaders to come out of hiding

It's remarkable just how rarely Tim Cook is described as the world's most powerful gay man. Unless there's a premier, president or dictator of a major economy who has a bloke on the side, then that is what Mr Cook, as chief executive of the world's biggest company, Apple, most certainly is.

Sexuality isn't an obvious hindrance to career progression in the City. However, few gay men and women feel comfortable enough openly to discuss their personal lives, which is dreadful given that so many of our everyday conversations, even at work, concern sex and relationships.

Now Mr Cook may not flaunt his sexuality, but he doesn't hide it either. We often feel that in the UK we're light years more liberal than the US on social issues, but the Cook example suggests otherwise.

While Lord Browne made it to be the head of BP, he did so by trying to keep a tight lid on a key part of who he is: two years ago he admitted to "deep, deep fears" that his sexuality would be made public when he led the oil giant.

Michael Bishop, now Baron Glendonbrook, might have been one of the few openly gay executives when he headed up BMI, but that airline was never in the same league as, say, a British Airways, even before BMI's failure.

Every year, when our editors debate whether or not The Pink List, published today, is still relevant, the sheer number of letters and support from those inspired by it overcome any doubts. And the lack of business leaders on the list is a reminder of just how much high-flyers worry about being openly gay in the Square Mile. It is folly to believe that there aren't far more gay business stars and starlets helping to rebuild our fragile economy, and they shouldn't have to hide a thing.

Obama's been a man of real achievement

No wonder Barack Obama has looked so knackered during this torturous US presidential election – a quick look at his record shows what an extraordinary first term he has had.

Even if Mitt Romney pulls off one of the most unpredictable electoral comebacks, Obama has crammed more into four years than any of his recent predecessors managed in eight.

If we take the definition of a "great" political leader to mean hugely significant rather than necessarily good, there's little doubt that Obama belongs in the top tier of presidents alongside the likes of George Washington, the two Roosevelts, and Ronald Reagan.

Obama pushed through healthcare, Osama bin Laden was killed on his watch, and he plotted the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. All significant achievements, although critics would say the Republicans will overturn the healthcare reforms, Bin Laden's death was down to work on the ground, and that the Middle East mission should not have been terminated.

One thing everyone must surely agree on, though, is that saving the US automobile industry was a daring decision. Without that rescue, cities like Detroit would now be ghost towns.