Stephen Hester’s bonus is a sideshow; the real issue is what’s become of our £45bn

If we could depart, for the moment, from what in the greater scheme of things is the almost wholly irrelevant distraction of Stephen Hester’s bonus, a rather more important question continues to fester – when, if ever, is the taxpayer going to see some sort of a return on the £45bn of rescue capital sunk into Mr Hester’s charge, Royal Bank of Scotland?

To have so much public money tied up doing nothing at a time of growing fiscal austerity is a travesty bordering on the criminal. Think how many schools, hospitals, and even aircraft carriers, it could provide.

It had been hoped that by now the Government would be preparing the way for sale of at least a part of its 83pc stake, if not at a profit, certainly at no less than its effective buy-in price. With the shares still languishing at just 27p, against an average purchase price of 60p, that prospect remains a distant dream.

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Britain warns Russia not to block UN effort over Syria

Foreign Secretary William Hague was on Monday flying to New York to lend Britain’s support to an Arab-backed draft resolution calling on the country’s authoritarian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down and pave the way for a transfer of power.

The Arab League’s secretary general Nabil Elaraby will on Tuesday brief Security Council members, including Mr Hague, on the findings of its recent mission to monitor the Assad regime’s response to widespread protests against his rule.

The suspension of the mission at the weekend was followed by an upsurge in violence, with reports of at least 62 deaths as regime forces stormed rebel strongholds in the capital Damascus and around the country.

Western powers including Britain and France are pushing for the adoption this week of the resolution tabled by current Security Council member Morocco, which would give international backing to an Arab League timetable for the transition of power in Syria to a unity government, followed by free elections.

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Stephen Hester bonus: ‘payments are matter for individuals’, says Downing Street

The statement came after Stephen Hester, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive, bowed to mounting public and political pressure and agreed to waive his £1 million bonus.

But asked whether the Prime Minister was happy to see other RBS executives receive million-pound bonuses, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “What we are not going to be doing is micro-managing.

“This Government has taken action to ensure that bonuses are responsible, they are much lower, there is a cap on cash bonuses of £2,000 and we are reforming the whole system.”

It was “a matter for individuals” whether they choose to accept any bonus they are offered, said the spokeswoman.

She added: “The Prime Minister’s view was that he wanted the bonuses to be lower. He always made it clear that it was a matter for Mr Hester whether he took that bonus or not, and that should remain the case.

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The Vicar’s Salary

At Sunday church the local Vicar explains that he must move on to a larger congregation that will pay him more.

There is a hush within the congregation.. No one wants him to leave because he is so popular.

Fred Smith, who owns several car dealerships in Southland and Otago, stands up and proclaims:
‘If the Vicar stays, I will provide him with a new Holden every year and his wife with a Honda mini-van to transport their children!’

The congregation sighs in appreciation and applauds.

Sam Brown, a successful entrepreneur and publican, stands and says,
‘If the Vicar will stay on here, I’ll personally double his salary and establish a foundation to guarantee private secondary school education of his children!’

More sighs and loud applause.

Agnes Jones, age 88, stands and announces with a smile,
‘If the Vicar stays, I will give him sex.’

There is total silence.

The Preacher, blushing, asks her:
‘Mrs. Jones, you’re a wonderful and holy lady, whatever possessed you to say that?’

Agnes’s 90-year old husband, Joe, is now trying to hide, holding his forehead with the palm of his hand and shaking his head from side to side, while his wife replies:
‘Well, I just asked my husband how we could help, and he said, ‘f**k him’.

Iran moving closer to stage where it will be too late to destroy nuclear facilities, Israel warns

Reviving Western concerns that his government is still contemplating unilateral military action against Iran, Ehud Barak gave one of the clearest signs yet that Israel’s support for new US and EU sanctions remains strictly limited.

“We are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear,” he told the World Economic Forum in Davos. “And even the American president and opinion leaders have said that no option should be removed from the table.

“It seems to us to be urgent, because the Iranians are deliberately drifting into what we call an immunity zone where practically no surgical operation could block them.”

Although Israeli intelligence and military officials have privately spoken of Iran’s nuclear programme entering a “framework of immunity”, it is the first time that a senior figure in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has done so in public.

Israel’s fears that it might soon be too late to launch military action were bolstered earlier this month when Iran announced that it had begun to enrich uranium at its Fordow plant, which is buried so deep within a mountain it may be impossible for Israeli warplanes or missiles to destroy.

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David Cameron is the prisoner of his own rhetoric about the banks

The Cameroons are great believers in “non-electoral milestones”: moments of resonant political symbolism that strengthen or weaken a party’s claim to office. One such milestone was David Cameron’s acute response, in May 2009, to the expenses scandal.

“Politicians have done things that are unethical and wrong,” the Conservative leader said. “I don’t care if they were within the rules. They were wrong.” Unlike Gordon Brown, he grasped immediately that this huge political event was not about the minutiae of parliamentary regulations, or the need to reform the “system”, but the public’s visceral sense of right and wrong.

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Barack Obama is trying to make the US a more socialist state

What was it everybody used to say about the United States? Look at what’s happening over there and you will see our future. Whatever Americans are doing now, we will be catching up with them in another 10 years or so. In popular culture or political rhetoric, America led the fashion and we tagged along behind.

Well, so much for that. Barack Obama is now putting the United States squarely a decade behind Britain. Listening to the President’s State of the Union message last week was like a surreal visit to our own recent past: there were, almost word for word, all those interminable Gordon Brown Budgets that preached “fairness” while listing endless new ways in which central government would intervene in every form of economic activity.

Later, in a television interview, Mr Obama described his programme of using higher taxes on the wealthy to bankroll new government spending as “a recipe for a fair, sound approach to deficit reduction and rebuilding this country”. To which we who come from the future can only shout, “No‑o-o, go back! Don’t come down this road!”

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Drinking eight teas a day ‘cuts blood pressure and heart disease’

But now scientists have found tea really does lower the blood pressure and could prevent heart disease.

Drinking eight cups of black leaf tea, such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast, a day “significantly” cuts blood pressure, researchers at the University of Western Australia found.

Volunteers with normal to high blood pressure were given three drinks a day containing 429 milligrams of the plant chemicals polyphenols – the equivalent of eight and a half teas a day. A second group were given a tea-flavoured placebo.

After six months, the blood pressure of the tea-drinking group had fallen by between two and three mmHg, the measurement of pressure used in medicine.

A blood pressure fluctuating with the heartbeat between 112 and 63 mmHg is considered healthy, while a reading fluctuating between 140 and 90 is deemed high.

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Syria kills dozens in bombardment of border town

Rankous, a mountain town of 25,000 people, 19 miles north of Damascus, has been under tank bombardment since Wednesday, when it was besieged by several thousand troops led by the elite Fourth Division, under the command of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, they said.

A resident of the nearby town of Sednaya, who did not want to be identified, said the 33 were killed since Wednesday and that no casualty figures were yet available for Sunday.

“We have managed to get through to people there who say the bombardment has brought down at least 10 buildings,” he told Reuters. “A tented army camp has been set up near the entrance of Rankous. Most of the town’s residents have fled to nearby villages,” he added.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities.

It was the second major attack on Rankous since November when it was stormed by troops after a demonstration demanding Assad’s removal was broadcast on the Arab news channel al-Jazeera, activists said.

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Blocking RBS bonus ‘would cause chaos’, Iain Duncan Smith warns

Mr Duncan Smith said the Government would welcome it if Mr Hester, the chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, turned down his bonus of £963,000.

But, he said, the agreement drawn up when the bank was rescued by the state in 2008 meant the Government could only block the payout by deposing the board, which would cause “chaos” in the financial system.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about what the Government can do and can’t do. The reality is the contract we inherited from Labour means very clearly the board takes the decision on this. You can’t interfere and tell them what to do. If we didn’t like that, the only option would be to get rid of the board,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“Now if you do that imagine what would happen in the banking sector. Imagine what would happen to RBS. You’d have chaos. RBS’s balance sheet is as large if not slightly larger than the GDP of the UK. What would that do to ordinary people?

“We need to get this bank to a point where we can sell it back and get the money for the taxpayer which has been put in.”

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