Laughing All the Way to the Bank*

Billy Bragg, 07/02/10

*Not Bill, obviously…

Another Sunday, another cold afternoon spent at Speaker’s Corner in the fine company of @billybragg. I’m quite getting use to this routine of taking the fight against RBS bonuses to the mean streets of W1R. With an election looming, hopefully the mixing of pop prose ‘n politics won’t have to run all the way through to the summer months.

Billy boarded his trusty stepladder, apologising for the coldness that has been a character of this campaign; cold in climate, but with a warm heart as the central message. Sure, we’re trying to overturn the million pound plus RBS bonuses paid out of the taxpayer’s purse, but at the core of is the central message of a fair and equal society.

Having admitted some seven days ago that Speaker’s Corner caused more nerves than anything he ever gets up to in the day job, Billy announced at the start of the week that he would return to Tyburn for a second Sunday to carry on with the campaign impetus.

A crowd of a couple of hundred gathered for the first week. With the election clock already in countdown mode, momentum is all important here. It’s all fine and dandy to have 25,000 plus supporters online, but activism needs a direct focus.

The troops were rallied, and plans were put in place to meet up with friends old and new. I arrived at Speaker’s Corner solo, having messed up the rendez vous with @richardgallon, @AnnaJCowen and @alien8. Whoops. Never try and squeeze in a cheeky swim before you try and overthrow capitalism.

A slight panic as the 1pm meeting time passed, and the crowd at Speaker’s Corner looked about as passionate as a banker forced to shop at Primark. Billy is a charmer, and did the meet ‘n greet thing. The press pack had a field day when a young girl got out her home made nobonus4rbs placard.

The Left may be late (blame the TfL’s Public Private Partnership) but we get there eventually. Even @richardgallon, @AnnaJCowen and @alien8, who all arrived just before Billy started his speech, along with a crowd considerably larger than last week.

Billy Bragg, 07/02/10

The nobonus4rbs message has moved on at a pace in the past seven days. As planned, Billy didn’t pay his taxes ahead of the midnight deadline last Sunday. His speech confirmed that Lord Myners, the Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury, has written to Billy to explain the government position.

This position seems to be one of rewarding greed and allowing the free market to run riot, despite the meltdown of the banking sector twelve months ago.

Not paying your taxes may seem like a naughty schoolboy prank, sticking up two fingers to authority and getting one over on The Man. But it’s not about rebellion. You get a real sense that it pains Billy Bragg not to contribute to the economy.

At the root of any tax system should be the fair and equal redistribution of wealth. But why should we put money into the pot, just to pay out excessive banking bonuses?

Billy spoke of the “L’Oreal effect” that RBS uses in defence of its crass payout: ‘because we’re worth it.’ There’s no beef here in bailing out the bank – restoring confidence in the banking system benefits the whole economy. Likewise it is the taxpayers that will eventually be rewarded, should RBS ever become solvent once again.

The issue at stake is how a publicly owned bank can plead poverty, and then start writing out bonus cheques once the economy starts to show the first sign of recovery. It’s business as usual, with million pound plus payouts back on the agenda.


This was a more relaxed crowd than last week, yet still as passionate about the issue of inequality that governs us. Taking the fight to the street is something that is not exactly new for the Left. The disguising of a rampant free market economy under Nu Labour has left us all feeling a little ring rusty though.

For a man that came to symbolise the public face of fighting for a fairer society during the ’80s, Billy seemed alarmed that we appear to be back to where we started under Thatcherism.

His speech soon hit form, with even the odd joke added for the Hyde Park supporters. But banking is no laughing matter. This is an issue that deserves to be at the centre of the general election campaign when the battle busses are boarded over the next couple of months. Who is more corrupt – the MP fiddling their expenses, or the banker profiting out of the public purse?

Half an hour after the songwriter took to his stepladder, I regrouped with @richardgallon, @AnnaJCowen and @alien8. A bonkers Bible bashing bigot door stepped us, much in the same way that I door stepped Billy Bragg. The bard’s response was somewhat more considered (and appreciated) than the one I gave to the bonkers Bible bashing bigot.


Just like the settling of the nerves from the man on top of the stepladder, I felt a lot more relaxed about talking to the one person who has played a major role is helping me find my own way politically over the past twenty five years.

But what next for Billy Bragg and nobonus4rbs? Well… have stepladder, will travel. Billy Bragg is off to Edinburgh next weekend, to continue to raise awareness for nobinus4rbs, right on the doorstep of the publicly owned institution.

The campaign continues online, but it is the very real presences of taxpayers taking issue with these obscene payouts that will keep RBS on the agenda as we approach the ballot box over the coming months.

And so a week off from Speaker’s Corner next Sunday. It’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n roll from Hyde Park Corner to Auld Reekie. So long, that I think I’ll be staying in London for the weekend.

But blimey – Billy Bragg, still walking and talking it in 2010 like he did some twenty-five years ago. Cheers for the inspiration, the direction and the bumbling podcast.

*full Billy Bragg speech from Speaker’s Corner, 7th February, can be downloaded here – many thanks @audioboo and of course, @billybragg*

Billy Bragg, 07/02/10

5 thoughts on “Laughing All the Way to the Bank*

  1. Um… is it just me? But does the fact the they led us into this crisis in the first place not prove beyond any doubt that they are NOT worth it? Or have I missed something?

  2. Hi, Thats a great report, its wonderful that you take the time to cover Billy’s campaign. The web lets people take news into their own hands and share directly, spontaneously, it is one of truly awesome capabilities of www we no longer have to read it filtered, second hand censured.

    For me well I woke this morning realising that the *ankers are a new global aristocracy, answerable to not one nation, not one government. As a country we have become dependent on this aristocracy, but like all aristocracy’s that have gone before it is small and fat and self important. But because it is the first truly global ‘superpower’ controlling governments and people, how do we fight back how do we say ‘you are immoral. corrupt, thieves of life and we don’t want it anymore?’

    We have one weapon, we have the global democracy of the web. 25% of the world are online and we all need to start using its collective capability to be heard.

    So 25,000 needs to become 250,000 needs to become 2,500,000 then perhaps our respective governments around the world will find the courage to say enough already, Billy found that courage and gave it a voice, a small one but one that will grow stronger with every person that in a moment clicks and supports.

  3. Hi Jason

    Thats myself and my wife pictured in your blogg above. We listened intently to what Bill had to say and also to your interview afterwards, well done! We travelled up to London from Hampshire yesterday solely to offer our support to Bill, where was everybody else?

    I’ve spoken with dozens of people on the subject of RBS bonuses and I’ve not met a single person who wants those bonuses paid, not one. Come on people change just doesn’t happen, it takes effort and a bit of graft. I understand that not everyone could make the trip to Hyde Park. But I urge everyone to take up the pen (or word processor) and write to the chancellor, their local MP, their local paper and the national press demanding that the veto negotiated on our behalf at the time of the bailout be used to stop these bonuses.

    Keep up the good work.


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