Politics Summary: Friday, February 26th

Bankers' bonuses, the latest polls, US healthcare reform, Afghanistan and bullying.

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The Royal Bank of Scotland, 84% owned by the taxpayer, is to pay out £1.6 billion in bonuses, with more than 100 bankers pocketing more than £1 million each – despite a £3.6bn loss. The bank will reward its 16,800 investment bankers with £1.3bn in bonuses, reports the Standard, with about £300m being paid out elsewhere, attracting “huge controversy about the level of planned bonuses at its investment arm”. They will each receive an average £160,000, explains The Independent, made up of a basic salary of £80,000 and the same again in bonuses, which will be paid in shares. “That compares to the national average full-time wage of those whose taxes are propping up the bank of about £25,000,” says the report. The bank, which has received more than £45bn in state funds, will pay £208m in taxes on the bonuses, adds the FT.

The Daily Telegraph reports the findings of the latest IPSOS/Mori poll, which would see Labour as the biggest party in a hung parliament. The poll, looking at those who are “absolutely certain to vote,” revealed 37% support for the Conservatives, 32% Labour and 19% Liberal Democrat. If translated into a general election, with a uniform swing, that would see Labour with 19 more seats than the Tories, but lacking an overall majority. The poll does not, however, “take account of the better showing that the Tories are likely to get in the marginal constituencies that will decide the election,” says the report. The Sun‘s latest YouGov daily tracker, meanwhile, shows the Conservatives on 39% (up 1), Labour 33% (up 1) and the Lib Dems 16% (down 3) – with 64% of voters already having made up their mind and only 27% likely to change. Left Foot Forward yesterday reported that David Cameron would have to do better than Churchill, Heath and Thatcher to win.

The Guardian reports the latest setback to President Obama’s hopes of a bipartisan deal on health reform, with Republicans calling for him to go back and start from scratch. Obama says healthcare has become “a very partisan battle”, with politics “trumping practical common sense”. “I hope that this isn’t political theatre where we’re just playing to the cameras and criticising each other, but instead are actually trying to solve the problem,” he added. The Democrats are proposing reforms to extend insurance coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans, at a cost of $950bn (£624bn) – with Republicans favouring a more limited expansion to 3 million more citizens, at a cost of $61bn (£93bn). With Congressional mid-terms looming in November, Obama’s been warned he has until Easter to get the bill through.

The Times reports the return of suicide bombers to Kabul, car bombs followed by strafing killing at least 17 and injuring more than 30 – the deadliest attacks since the start of Operation Moshtarak. “Police and elite counter terrorism troops fought for more than three hours as rescuers continued to heave bodies our of four wrecked buildings,” says the report. “The nine-storey glass façade of an upmarket shopping centre and hotel complex collapsed on to the street, while a 4-metre crater marked the spot of the first explosion outside the Hamid Guesthouse. Thick branches torn from nearby trees and the charred remains of a car’s engine block littered the streets, as ambulances ferried the wounded to nearby hospitals.” Three of the dead were police officers and most of the civilians who were killed were Indians, adds the Independent. The Taleban have claimed responsibility for the attack.

And the Telegraph reports the opening of an inquiry into the National Bullying Helpline, the charity at the centre of bullying allegations against Downing Street. The Charity Commission will investigate the apparent breach of confidence by the NBH’s Christine Pratt, who appeared on television last weekend claiming to have received calls from Number 10 staff. A commission spokeswoman told the Telegraph: “Concerns have been raised about the protection of confidential information held by the charity as a result of the operation of the charity’s confidential helpline for victims of bullying. The commission has a statutory responsibility to promote public trust and confidence in charities, and is aware of the potential impact on other charities that run confidential helplines.” The NBH responded by saying its representatives would “be pleased to meet with Gordon Brown, to whom we wish no ill, if it would help to remedy the situation”.

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