That, in a nutshell, appears to be the political philosophy of Sir Martin Sorrell. Before Sir Martin instructs his doubtless legions of libel lawyers to pursue me, I’d draw his, and their, attention to the word “appears” in the foregoing critique. I may be wrong. Sir Martin may be a model of generous concern for his less fortunate comrades. But it doesn’t seem likely, given his irritated declaration to Evan Davis on the BBC’s Today programme this morning that “whether [he] liked it or not”, his line of questioning on Sir Martin’s and his FTSE 100 director colleagues’ pay was barking up the wrong tree.
Actually, I don’t think it was Evan Davis that was barking, regardless of the tree of his choice. Sir Martin assured him that his (Sir Martin’s, that is) basic pay was “very low”, and he was obliged to cobble together a living wage by all kinds of onerous performance-based inconveniences. I think there might be a small disparity in my use of the term “very low” when applied to wages, and Sir Martin’s. Because it transpired that Sir Martin’s basic pay was a paltry £1.4M. I have rarely felt the milk of human kindness flow from my breast more fulsomely. Not. No, taking one thing with another, I think it’s Sir Martin that is barking.
What had got Sir Martin’s goat was Evan Davis having had the temerity to suggest that perhaps £1.4M was not very low, but in fact rather a lot. No, that was only because Evan (and this listener for one) had got confused about the relative meanings of “very low” and “rather a lot”. Where we’d made our mistake was to compare this piffling £1.4M with other impoverished people like ourselves. That was clearly nonsense. Rather, the proper comparison was with the – apparently – even more well-rewarded executives of other advertising agencies in the world, against whom Sir Martin felt he was not properly competing. And, indeed, it must surely be galling to have to look at one’s tiny £1.4M pay packet in the full knowledge that others have a much bigger one. Who, after all, wants to find that others have a bigger one? Sir Martin surely does not deserve such international humiliation. He also pointed out that even if his fellow British citizens were in general getting steadily poorer, that was irrelevant. Because, Mr Davis, do you know how much of my company’s business is done in the UK? Well, whether Evan knew or not, Sir Martin was leaving nothing to chance. The answer, he assured us, was 10%. So that meant that his wages had no obligation whatever to be seen in the context of British wages generally. Britain is getting poorer. He is not. Tough shit on you, Britain.
I hope you’re all keeping up. This really is very simple. We’re in a recession (well, a period of lacklustre growth.) Big companies are finding it hard to sell us their shit, because we’ve got no money. That means they need to spend much more on advertising, sprucing up their brands and the like, so that whatever crumbs of consumer spending we may have to offer, they can make sure those crumbs go to them. In so doing, they put a lot of business Sir Martin’s way. That makes Sir Martin’s company rich. And in turn, that makes Sir Martin rich. What’s wrong with that? If you’re Sir Martin, the answer is a resounding, “Nothing!”
Now, I might be very wrong about this. But I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s the Sir Martins of this world, and their hard-done-by tales of not being able to keep up with the international Joneses, that are provoking the ire of urban campers and causing cathedrals to shut their doors. But not to worry. The City of London Corporation is about to have those pesky protesters moved on. And then we can all relax and get on with our lives. After all, Sir Martin is. You’re not happy? Well, tough shit.