Stephen Glover: The newspapers now berating Lloyds were once its cheerleaders

The economic crisis has shaken the faith of many in capitalism itself. I can’t pretend to be entirely immune from such feelings. But I suppose the bigger shock to one’s system is the realisation that the suave bankers counting their bonuses in the boardroom don’t have any more idea of how to run their businesses than the doorman twenty floors below.

Yesterday’s papers were full of righteous indignation against the bosses at Lloyds TSB who have ruined their bank, and put it into the Government’s hands, as a result of its takeover of Halifax Bank of Scotland. An article in the Sunday Telegraph mentioned the ‘catastrophically imprudent decision taken last autumn’ to merge with HBOS. ‘Eric Daniels and Sir Victor Blank took Britain’s safest bank and turned it into a basket case,’ ran a strap-line in the Sunday Times, referring respectively to the chief executive and chairman of Lloyds TSB.

It’s all true, of course. A picture of Sir Victor’s self-satisfied face can ruin one’s morning. He and Mr Daniels have helped bring down the only British bank rated ‘triple A’ by Moody’s, a bank thought to be more conservative than the Vatican. The newspapers are all agreed about the utter stupidity of the takeover.

And yet in a spirit of fairness one has to point out that last September the press was virtually unanimous in welcoming the deal. A few writers pointed out that the merger would almost certainly lead to higher mortgages because the new mega-banker would be a dominant player in the market. But the general feeling was that the ultra-conservative Lloyds would be a saviour of the miscreant, ill-run HBOS.

I stand to be corrected, but I can find no paper which slated the deal at the time on the basis that it would finish off Lloyds, and require more taxpayer funding. The Sunday Times, now so angry, reported excitedly on 21 September 2008 that Sir Victor Blank ‘has set out his ambition to turn the combined group into a top ten international bank within five years.’ The Sunday Telegraph ran a highly sympathetic interview of Mr Daniels on the same day under the headline ‘Quiet American rides to the rescue.’ The ever perspicacious Financial Times reassured its readers that ‘a Lloyds TSB- HBOS merger looks the best way forward.’

As the weeks went by, several commentators did begin to express misgivings – for example, Jeff Randall in the Daily Telegraph on 11 November under the headline ‘There is something smelly about the takeover of Halifax Bank of Scotland by Lloyds TSB.’ At the time, though, there were few, if any, such misgivings. Financial PR types, backed up by government spin doctors, appear to have persuaded newspapers that, so far as the future well-being of Lloyds was concerned, there was nothing much to worry about.

Of course, every journalist makes mistakes. My own columns doubtless comprise a roll-call of bad predictions. The interesting point here, though, is that the financial pages did not criticise a deal with which six months later they find so much fault – after it has gone pear-shaped. We journalists, who berate bankers and politicians for their incompetence, also get things wrong ourselves. And I wager that this particular story is not the only occasion during the credit crunch when we have done so.



This is one election that will not be decided by the newspapers

As he slips further below the water, Gordon Brown is personally telephoning editors more than he has ever done before, trying to make sense for them of the bewildering array of Government initiatives, and to convince them that everything will turn out for the best. It all looks a bit desperate, and I don't suppose it will do him much good.

The Prime Minister's traditional, though always tentative, defenders on the Right, are The Sun and, to a lesser extent, the Daily Mail. Both are gradually distancing themselves from him, though neither has yet formally disowned him. No newspaper wants to be roped to a political leader as his head bobs beneath the foamy main.

Mr Brown, despite his best efforts, cannot excite much enthusiasm among old friends on the Left. It cannot be long before columnists such as Polly Toynbee and Jacqui Ashley on The Guardian turn against him – as they did last autumn. This time they will have to be absolutely sure that he is finished since, having ditched and picked him up again once before, they can hardly do so again without appearing idiotic.

David Cameron, by contrast, is spending less time buttering up editors, though naturally he dines with them from time to time. The Sun would be a prize worth winning, but the timing of such an alliance is in the hands of Rupert Murdoch, the paper's owner. I imagine that the Tory leader will get the old man's endorsement at the eleventh hour, though by that time it won't make much difference. Brown will be toast.

Mr Cameron seems to have realised that neither the Daily Mail nor the Daily Telegraph is ever going to love him, though both papers will, of course, support him as the general election looms. It's always nice for a Tory leader to have the Tory press rooting for him, but on this occasion Mr Cameron doesn't really need it. He has a 20-point lead in the polls without any newspaper having broken sweat for him.

So we live at an odd time. On the one hand there is Gordon Brown, neither feted by his old friends nor yet wholly eviscerated by his enemies. On the other, there is David Cameron, the subject of an occasional sympathetic piece in the left-wing press, but rarely receiving more than a polite pat on the back from those who are supposed to be his friends.

More than in any general election I can remember, the press seems peripheral to the probable outcome. No newspaper wants to fight for Mr Brown, but nor does any feel inclined to go over the top for Mr Cameron. There is a sense that the electorate is making up its mind with little help from the press. It won't be one of these elections such as 1992 in which newspapers strove to shape the outcome, and may have done so. They neither feel they can, nor perhaps would want to even if they could.

Of course, no one will ever say as much. Newspapers do not generally care to admit they have limited political sway. I would certainly not state that they do so as a universal rule, only that this will be a general election in which the people, not Her Majesty's press, will decide.

Old deal puts pressure on Lebedev's new Standard

Alexander Lebedev's London Evening Standard does not so far seem very different from the one owned by Associated Newspapers. If anything, it has so far edged downmarket rather than up. No doubt its new editor, Geordie Greig, has more ambitious plans afoot. It seems he may not be joined by his new deputy, Sarah Sands, for several months, as she has to extricate herself from the editor's chair at Reader's Digest.

There is, meanwhile, one bone of contention that could grow quite serious. Some Standard journalists reportedly bridle at the presence at their conferences of staff from London Lite. It seems odd to them that the newspaper should still be supplying editorial to the London freesheet.

Before Lebedev bought it, the Standard was obviously weakened by its relationship with London Lite. One sometimes hesitated before shelling out 50p for the newspaper in the knowledge that the giveaway contained many of the same stories. After Mr Lebedev acquired 75.1 per cent of the Standard, leaving Jonathan Rothermere with only 24.9 per cent, my assumption was that the relationship between the two titles would change, and that London Lite would no longer be permitted to undermine the Standard by publishing some of the same pieces.

I seem to have been wrong. An Evening Standard spokesman was quoted last week as saying that it is "business as usual" so far as the relationship between the two papers is concerned. If this is true, it appears that the ex-KGB man Lebedev was on the receiving end of a hard bargain. It would obviously be better for the Standard if its readers knew they could not find the same stories in London Lite for free. On the other hand, it must suit Associated to be take stories from the better resourced Standard, for which they presumably pay a fee.

It's not all share and share alike for Michael Grade at ITV

Michael Grade, ITV's executive chairman, was paid a total of £924,000 in 2008, less than half the £1,934,0000 he received the previous year.

Given ITV's appalling results unveiled last week, along with announcements of redundancies and cuts in programme budgets, Mr Grade had little choice but to accept a reduced a pay package. Nonetheless, he did receive a bonus amounting to 28.5 per cent of salary.

More worrying to me, though scarcely criticised by other commentators, was his disposal of 304,153 ITV shares on 31 December last year. John Cresswell, the company's chief operator officer and finance director, sold 145,697 shares at the same price.

The disposals were perfectly legal and within the rules, but that does not make them right. Both men should have suspected that trading conditions would deteriorate, and that ITV's share price might fall further. As I write, it stands at 20.5p.

Wouldn't it have been more seemly – as well being a rousing show of confidence in ITV's future – if both men had hung on to these shares?

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Opilio Recruitment: Business Development Manager

Competitive: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a Bu...

Opilio Recruitment: Technical Recruiter

£35k - 42k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting oppo...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Support Analyst

£30k - 36k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Langley James : Field Support Engineer; Dynamics, SQL; Manchester, £33k+Car

£33000 - £36000 per annum + Car+Laptop+Phone: Langley James : Field Support En...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game