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The banker who came in from the cold - for his bonus

Following the rise and fall of bankers over the past few years has been an exhausting process.

Following the rise and fall of bankers over the past few years has been an exhausting process.

They went from being masters of the universe to village idiots. Now they are turning into secret agents. Do they all of a sudden think they are James Bond? And how did that happen? Doubtless they were all shaken by the events of 2008, but clearly not stirred.

Their latest incarnation began, rather improbably, with the ridiculous sounding Project Merlin, the name no doubt filched from an unfinished John le Carre novel. It's a deal cooked up between Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, and the country's four biggest banks - HSBC, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds.

They have signed up to lending more than last year and have agreed to reveal how much in bonuses they pay certain people - but not their names.

According to the BBC website: "The four Merlin banks have also agreed that total bonuses for their UK-based staff will be lower than they were in 2010." Also, no doubt, because it's quite fun keeping everything secret.

This irritates me on so many levels it is hard to know where to start. Let's begin with the Merlin banks.

So these are no longer the dolts that came cap in hand to the taxpayer to bail either them or the system out. Like Merlin, the wizard in the King Arthur stories, they now seem able to fish swords out of lakes, grow a long beard and appear Welsh. That should be enough to unsettle anybody.

Whichever bright spark called this deal Merlin had clearly not read his Mark Twain. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Merlin is an utter charlatan with no real magic power. That sounds more like most of the bankers I know.

Second point. Why did the four Merlin banks agree that total bonuses for UK staff would be lower than last year? So they would have an excuse to pay their staff less.

This, however, hasn't stopped Barclays paying its top dogs pay and share packages worth up to 47 million (Dh279.05m) a head yesterday, but the bank insisted the bumper windfalls were "in the interests" of Britain. I guess they would.

Along with Merlin, certain bankers are now deemed to be Code Staff, better known colloquially as Codestars. Or is it Codstars? This is almost more ridiculous than Project Merlin, but then it has been cooked up by the EU. To be precise the Capital Requirements Directives III, which obliges financial companies in the EU to identify key staff who are either senior or able to affect the risk profile of the company.

If you are one of these characters - and let's face it, anybody who bothered to read The Black Swan should know by now that it's precisely the people we least expect who will cause the most havoc - the tea lady, the teenage trader, the intern - who are going to bring a company or a financial institution to its knees, and not the chief executive, who is far too busy playing golf or a rubber of bridge to go near anything as vulgar as a trading terminal.

Never mind. The EU, in its infinite wisdom, has managed to create an elite in one fell swoop. Who wouldn't want to be a Codestar? Nearly as cool as being a Teamster and probably even more profitable.

The only drawback for Smiley's People is we don't know their names. But we can guess. And if we don't, I am sure they will tell us. What is the point of being superior to everybody else in your organisation if nobody knows who you are?

Alastair Windass (surely that can't really be his real name?), a lawyer with Clifford Chance, told The Times on Wednesday: "People want to be considered senior, of course, but there's a general view that if you can avoid being classified code staff, that might be a good thing."

With respect Mr Windass, you are talking out of your ear. Of course if you were a banker you would want to be a code star, just as if you were a spy, you would want a licence to kill.

I still think there's a better way of rewarding bankers, cutting out all the Merlin nonsense and the code stars.

Give them all a bottle of Tiger Blood, 100 per cent organic. And a night out with Charlie Sheen. If they can survive that, they are truly Masters of the Universe, and deserve every bonus going. Worms. Trolls. Traitors. Chicken dinner, you're all winners.

rwright@thenational.ae

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