Paul Foot on media smears of firefighters

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Nov 27 06:12:01 MST 2002


The fat cat at the Mail

The Mail on Sunday called Andy Gilchrist, the fire union leader, a "fat cat"
for his £82,000 salary. The Mail on Sunday's editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre,
receives a basic yearly salary of £690,000. Who's fat?

Paul Foot
Wednesday November 27, 2002
The Guardian

The shock front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday was: "Fat cat pay of
fire union leader." The paper devoted three pages to proving that Andy
Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, has joined the
ranks of the fat cats. This "exclusive" revelation was dug out in a
prodigious feat of investigative reporting - by reading the FBU's published
accounts. They show that Mr Gilchrist, one of the lowest-paid trade union
leaders with a basic personal salary of £50,896, gets a car, fuel, a low
mortgage and a subsidised pension from his union. All in all, after every
penny of benefits has been counted, Mail on Sunday investigators calculated
a total remuneration for Mr Gilchrist of £82,176.

That's a healthy salary, much more than that of the average firefighter, but
does it make Mr Gilchrist a fat cat? That phrase is usually reserved for the
directors and City slickers who run our big banks and companies, and whose
salaries, plus share options, bonuses and all the rest of that rubbish,
leave Mr Gilchrist lumbering far behind.

Casting around for a real fat cat, I came across Mr Paul Dacre,
editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Mr Dacre's basic
salary is £690,000 a year, a little bit more than 13 times that of Mr
Gilchrist. But wait, we haven't started yet. Mr Dacre also gets £65,000 in
"benefits". What might they be? Well, they include allowances for a car, for
fuel, and (according to a note in the accounts) "in Mr Dacre's case help
with accommodation in London". (Now I always thought Mr Dacre lived in a
lovely town house in Islington, in easy reach of his work in Kensington, but
he obviously needs extra help with that.) Does he have to worry about his
pension? No, not really, because thanks to the very generous executive
pension scheme at the Daily Mail, he has already accumulated £348,000 for
his pension - and he's only 52. Then there are his 115,000 share options
that he can cash in any time in the next three years.

Is that enough incentive for the overworked editor-in-chief? Not according
to Viscount Rothermere, another very fat cat indeed, who came into his title
because his father, in a spurt of initiative and enterprise, died, leaving
his vast fortune and at least three newspapers to his son and heir. Some
months ago, the viscount told his shareholders (who are mainly members of
his family) that the existing arrangements for executive pay did not go far
enough in ensuring that the Daily Mail General Trust "can attract and retain
world-class executive talent". The obvious remedy was to provide still more
cream for the already bulging bellies of the world-class fat cats on his
board.

So the luckiest of them, including Mr Dacre, were encouraged to buy shares
and put them into a "long-term incentive plan". If the Mail keeps up with
its competitors, Mr Dacre will receive, entirely free, yet more gigantic
hunks of shares, taking him to a possible £14m. If the Mail doesn't succeed
(and the signs are, thankfully, that the company is not doing as well as it
pretends) Mr Dacre will have to fall back on the miserable remuneration he
gets already.

It is hard to think of an appropriate epithet for an unelected fat cat who
devotes pages of his newspaper to "exposing" the already published salary of
an elected union leader who earns as much in a year as Mr Dacre makes in a
month. But that is only part of the point. The real point comes back to
Messrs Blair, Brown and Prescott when they are attacking the firefighters'
wage claims.

Previous Labour governments have wrestled uneasily with wage freezes and
incomes policies, but the assumption of all of them was that their policy
should apply - at least in theory - as much to shareholders and millionaires
as to workers. So the Labour governments' incomes policies in the past have
included at least some, often rather ineffectual, controls on rents and
dividends and have been balanced to some extent by high income taxes on the
mega-rich.

This Labour government started by holding down income tax levels at the
absurdly low levels plumbed by the Tories. There is no control on rents and
dividends. Labour ministers shamelessly grovel to the very rich, in the
ridiculous belief that their riches are evidence of social achievement. The
result has been a steady and obscene growth in the gap between the very rich
and the rest. So when a group of lowly paid workers skilfully evades the
Tory/Labour anti-union laws and votes to strike, the only rhetoric left to
ministers is to call for restraint, when they themselves have encouraged the
greediest and the richest in society to cast off all restraint and plunge
headlong into the trough.




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