Lord Myners: poacher turned gamekeeper

Paul Myners, the City poacher turned gamekeeper drafted into the government last autumn, is a man of many talents.

The City poacher turned gamekeeper, drafted into the government last autumn as "the minister for Major Banking Disasters", is a man of many talents. One of them, says the Daily Mail, is making enemies. Sir Philip Green, the retail billionaire, once remarked he'd like to give Myners "a proper kick in the head" a sentiment no doubt warmly shared by the former RBS chief, Sir Fred Goodwin. After presiding over the worst banking disaster in British history, Fred the Shred was already in disgrace. But after the leaked row with Myners over his pension arrangements (Myners asked him to give some of the money back; Sir Fred refused, saying he'd been aware of the deal, part of his package for leaving the bank), Sir Fred has endured dreadful press. But "Pensiongate" has also backfired on both the government and Myners (see below). Last week, Gordon Brown promised "every legal means at our disposal" to wrest back Goodwin's £16.6m pension pot. But "if there was ever any chance of Goodwin giving up some of his pension benefits that time has long gone". He has every incentive to keep it. "He is damned if he surrenders and damned if he doesn't."

When Lord Myners of Truro, 60, joined Gordon Brown's cabinet, he was seen as the perfect New Labour minister: a Renaissance Man who combined an apparently easy gift for becoming filthy rich with a social conscience. Myners, it is said, has never forgotten his roots. "Indeed, his beginnings were as humble as can be imagined," says The Independent. After being given away by his mother at birth, he spent his first three years in a children's home, before being adopted by a Truro butcher. A clever boy, he won a scholarship to the area's best independent school and gained a first-class degree at London University. His early career, however, was characterised by false starts. Realising he was no teacher, "he charmed his way, over a lunch" into a job as a financial journalist on The Daily Telegraph, before jumping ship to NM Rothschild in 1974, rising swiftly to become the bank's key manager in Hong Kong and a board member to boot.

"I have worked in the City but never been of the City," says Myners. You could have fooled me, says Chris Blackhurst in the Evening Standard. His subsequent career as a hedge-fund supremo and board-room grandee (at M&S, the Bank of New York, and the Guardian Media Group) marks him out as a man of extraordinary range. After joining the investment manager, Gartmore, in 1985, Myners sold the firm four times, eventually pocketing some £30m from its sale to NatWest. Myners certainly has a ruthless streak, says the Daily Mail. And while supporters praise his energy, wisdom and mischievous sense of humour, others see hypocrisy behind his trendy, often tie-less exterior. He has profited well from "the bonus culture he now decries", enjoying a luxurious lifestyle with his second wife, Alison, and their two children. An enigma, Myers doesn't drink, as alcohol interferes with finding a "spiritual dimension". Yet he is renowned for his "volcanic rages". But one thing is certain: his "so-far stellar career now hangs in the balance".

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Burying bad news under a golden pension pot

I never thought that anyone would make me feel a batsqueak of sympathy for Sir Fred Goodwin, says Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph. He has "come to incarnate all the worst vices of the financial services industry". When it emerged that he had refused to give up even a penny of his annual £703,000 pension, we were nauseated by his "blind, gulping insensate greed". Nothing, you might think, could inspire us to think of siding with him. Except, perhaps, the government.

Why didn't Myners, an acknowledged pensions expert, question the payout when RBS was rescued last October? The obvious answer is that he "wasn't particularly struck by the size", says Minette Marrin in The Sunday Times. He is a wealthy plutocrat himself and "there is something about being extremely rich that blurs ordinary perspective". Myners lacks political nous, agrees the Evening Standard. A seasoned politician would have spotted "that a pension plays very big in the ordinary person's psyche".

The row over who said or knew what, continues, but one thing is clear, says David Randall in The Independent on Sunday: the government was fully appraised from the start about the size of Sir Fred's pension it just hadn't become "An Issue". Last week was the ideal time to make it one. When Robert Peston went on air, "he could barely get the numbers out for hyper-ventilating". The inevitable media hoo-ha proved the perfect smokescreen for the gargantuan scale of the latest bank bail-out and the spooling zeroes of government debt. "Sir Fred will soon fade into gold-plated discredit, but the real problems will remain."