Sunday, January 27, 2008

Zut alors! Rogue Trader loses it.

I don’t know about retail prices, but inflation in financial fraud is clearly rampant. No rogue trader would get out of bed for the £800 million Nick Leeson blew on Barings bank ten years ago. Le Rogue du jour, Jerome Kerviel, who nearly broke Societe General, had to gamble away £3.6 billion make any kind of impression. It’s tough out there.

And political rogue traders are also upping the ante. Gordon Brown is bidding to be the greatest of all time by betting £50,000,000,000 of our money on Richard Branson to win on Northern Rock. It’s a give-away that dwarfs state subsidies from the 70s; financial irresponsibility on an epic scale. The equivalent of the entire UK education budget being put in the hands of a bearded tax exile who’s littered the high streets of Britain with his failed ventures in soft drinks, clothing, pensions. You name it, Virgin failed at it.

As LibDem Vince Cable put it (quoting this column from last week as it happens) Gordon Brown has “nationalised the risks and privatised the profits” of Northern Rock. Branson would be laughing all the way to the Virgin bank, if he actually possessed a banking license.

But at least Gordon has put more police on the streets. Yes, the boys in blue are back on the beat - only they’re not collaring criminals but marching to demand the government honours its pay promise. The police say they are owed £40 million. But, look, the government can’t just throw money around. It’s not as if Scotland Yard is a bank, after all.

Back in the bad old days, when Britain still had industries, the police used to get on the street to batter striking miners senseless. So the question arises of who is going to beat marching policemen senseless? Perhaps they should round up all those redundant miners and steelworkers and give them a crash course in crowd control courtesy of our friendly security companies like Group 4.

Indeed, perhaps the police should privatise themselves? They’d get a better hearing. The government used last week’s stock market crash as a convenient cover for its latest U-turn to business. It had threatened to take away the tax advantages enjoyed by small businessmen who, for some reason, only pay 10% tax when they wind up their businesses instead of the normal 40% on capital gains. Nice little earner. But after much lobbying, the government has agreed to restore the tax break, at a cost of £200m. Which is five times what the police were after.

All of which pales into insignificance beside the £7billion that City financiers have paid themselves in bonuses this year. Yes, the international financial system may be in ruins, the stock market may be crashing around our ears, the banks have collectively blown $200 billion on sub-prime mortgages and brought the world to the edge of the financial abyss. But hey, regulator, just don’t touch those bonuses! After all, they’re worth it.

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