Nick Clegg is facing a backlash from Liberal Democrat MPs over the Government's climbdown on bankers' pay and bonuses.
Some backbenchers fear that the Liberal Democrats, already suffering in the polls after a U-turn over tuition fees, may also bear the brunt of public anger if the Coalition fails to live up to the rhetoric of Mr Clegg and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, on a need to rein in bonuses.
There are growing signs that the Chancellor has the upper hand in his battle with Mr Cable over the banks after the Business Secretary lost part of his empire last month for saying privately that he had "declared war" on the media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
One Tory minister said: "Vince Cable has been put back in his box. His authority is weakened and that has affected the debate on the banks."
Two Liberal Democrat MPs, Andrew George and Mike Hancock, have signed a Commons motion calling for a windfall tax on excessive bonuses and pay. Their demand is similar to Labour's call for a repeat of last year's 50 per cent levy on bonuses of more than £25,000.
Mr George said: "Of course I am disappointed. The theme of 'We are all in this together' should apply to the bankers. The public would like to see evidence, as the Chancellor has said, of those with the broadest shoulders bearing the greatest burden. I don't see that happening.
"The public would like to hear, not just clones and automatons on the government benches, but a genuine debate they can engage in."
Mr Hancock said yesterday: "If banks can pay out bonuses, they should pay the same amount back to the taxpayers on a pound for pound basis. The bonuses are a slap in the face for the people of this country."
He said all Liberal Democrat ministers should still "fight tooth and nail" for a crackdown on the banks. "It is no use talking tough if we do not act tough."
Jo Swinson, another Liberal Democrat MP, told George Osborne in the Commons: "You must understand the level of public anger about huge bank bonuses and recognise that obscene rewards for short-term gain without regard to the long-term consequences were part of the problem that led to the banking collapse.
"Surely, to avoid a repeat of that, bank bonuses should be restrained and importantly weighted towards sustainable long-term performance rather than short-term speculation?"
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president, insisted that progress was being made in the Government's talks with the banks and that no final decision had been reached.
"Of course we could and should be doing more," he said. "There is a very strong case to demonstrate to the public that justice must be done and many on the Conservative side agree with that. It is not a case of hounding individuals and turning people into demons."
Mr Clegg said: "It is nonsense to say we cannot do anything about it [bonuses]. We have certainly not thrown in the towel. We are in very detailed negotiations with the banks."
He added: "We have already done more than Labour to sort out the banks and we are doing more to make sure that we have a healthy banking system.
"I want the banks to give back to the taxpayer and the Government as much taxpayer revenue as they can possibly get from them. That is what we are going to do."
The fattest cats
Bob Diamond, Barclays £8.5m (likely total for 2010)
Mr Diamond earns a basic salary of £1.35m with up to £3.4m payable as his annual bonus. However, he can be paid a maximum of £6.5m for work carried out in a particular year under the bank's long-term incentive plan. He was chief executive of Barclays Capital in 2010 when his basic was just £250,000 in a package heavily weighted towards bonuses. However his pay for 2010 is expected to resemble that of Barclays' previous chief executive John Varley rather than that of an investment banker. As Barclays' boss in the future he will be able to earn up to £11.5m.
Stephen Hester, RBS £3.2m (but could reach £9m)
Mr Hester earns a basic salary of £1.2m, plus pension contributions and other benefits of £420,000. He can earn a maximum bonus for 2010 of £2.4m but for an "on target" year it is more likely to come in at about £1.6m. Down the line up to £4.8m more is available through the bank's long-term incentive scheme.
Eric Daniels, Lloyds £3.5m (but could hit £6.7m)
The pauper of the four, Mr Daniels earns a basic of £1.035m with a maximum annual bonus of £2.3m. An estimate of £500,000 on top for payments into his final-salary pension is reasonable. A further £2.8m could be earned through the long-term incentive scheme.
Stuart Gulliver, HSBC £10m
Like Mr Diamond, he was formerly head of his bank's investment division, although it is not the powerhouse that Barclays Capital has become. All the same, he made £10m in 2009 and can expect similar for 2010. Details of his package as chief executive will emerge over time.
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