The annual general meeting is the only day the Haves are obliged to meet the Have-A-Lot-Lesses. It's what passes for accountability in the boardroom but is, in reality, more of a futile gesture because all of the important issues – the reappointment of directors and their remuneration – have been stitched up well before the AGM by the proxy votes of the large financial institutions who hold most of the shares. Those who complain about trade union block votes have never been to an AGM.
Still, the chimera of democracy has to be seen to be done and even if the small shareholders don't have any actual influence they do get a couple of hours to let the directors know exactly what they think of them and the directors are obliged to suck it up. Some do it with a forced smile, others with a scowl and Mike Ashley, who was seated closest to the wings, did it by pretending to be dead. He didn't move or blink throughout.
And there was a lot of sucking to be done. If it's bad enough that Barclays is a bank and everyone hates banks, what's really intolerable to many of its investors is that it's a fairly rubbish bank: its profits are down by 32%, its share price has fallen, it's been shamed by the Libor-rigging scandal, it's been forced into a £6bn rights issue to raise capital and has paid its staff more in bonuses than it has to its shareholders in dividends.And after it all:
The riff-raff headed for the free sandwiches in the lobby. The directors made for the stage door where a fleet of shiny chauffeur-driven Mercs was waiting.Good old-fashioned hammering of the privileged.