Fiscal Charter Hoopla* obscured big concessions to the City

Gareth Harfoot, September 2, 2006

Gareth Harfoot, September 2, 2006

* Hoopla: “speech or writing intended to mislead or to obscure an issue.”

October has been an eventful month. In Britain, politics is back in fashion. After years of Blairite vacuity, the media have juicy political red meat to plunge their teeth into.  The new Labour leader’s announcement that he would not press the nuclear button led to a veritable feeding frenzy. This was exceeded only by alarm verging on hysteria at the Labour Shadow Chancellor’s U-turn on the Fiscal Charter.

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It's not the public, but the private finance sector, stupid.

Image: acknowledgements to the BBC.

The Autumn Statement reveals but one thing: the Chancellor and his advisers are both ill-advised and dangerously ill-prepared for the forthcoming prolonged Depression. (And if you think I exaggerate, let me remind you that 20 years after the Japanese debt bubble burst, Tokyo house prices are still falling, and the stock market is worth 60% less than 20 years ago. And the Japanese economy was in a healthier state then, than the UK is today, thanks to an export surplus.)

Today’s penalising of the innocent – public sector workers, pensioners and those hundreds of thousands of young people entering the labour market  – is a result of a deeply flawed economic analysis by the Chancellor of the causes of the global financial crisis.

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Osborne: Speaking truth to wealth and power? Really?

George Osborne was presumably aiming at himself and his friends, when he vowed “to speak truth to power and wealth” at the Tory party conference this week, but dare he speak economic truth to the rest of us? – simultaneously published on Left Foot Forward >

On the narrowest of bases, he might still claim he spoke “truth” to the weak and powerless when in the House of Commons debate on the economy on August 11th he made this challenge:

“Those who spent the whole of the past year telling us to follow the American example, with yet more fiscal stimulus, need to answer this simple question: why has the US economy grown more slowly than the UK economy so far this year?”

It was a ‘brave’ claim when he made it, and it’s looking even ‘braver’ – and more disingenuous – now.

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Is George Osborne a radical Chancellor? - far from it

I was on Newsnight last week, to comment on the Budget. (You can watch it with the BBC’s iPlayer..our slot is about 35 minutes into the show.)

Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman posed a question to the panel, which included Lord Lamont, ex-Chancellor, and Irwin Steltzer. He asked: is George Osborne a radical Chancellor?”

Radical, according to the dictionary definition means: “desiring or advocating fundamental or drastic reforms”.

I argued that George Osborne is not a radical. Far from it.  His imposition of austerity, in my view, punishes the weak and rewards the strong. No change or reform in that. Instead the government’s central economic strategy is aimed at appeasing the financial markets, in particular the international bond markets and ratings agencies, irrespective of the implications for an already severe unemployment situation, or for the wishes of the British people. In doing so, George Osborne follows a long line of predecessors in putting the interests of finance before the interests of society as a whole. In this respect, he is no radical.

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Bankers tighten their grip

13 May, 2010

With a backdrop of bankers looting the EU’s Treasuries (via a bailout that rivals George Bush’s TARP) let us consider one of the most significant Dem-Con appointments (and a non-appointment) to the British cabinet.

That of someone who until now was invisible: David Laws the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

His Wikipedia profile (updated on the day of his elevation, and before he had taken up his ministerial responsibilities) depicts him as the man that speaks for his party on matters relating to kiddie-winkies and families and, no doubt, motherhood and apple pie.  He is also commended for his conciliatory role in negotiating the Scottish Parliament coalition.

No mention here of his real background.

For, according to ePolitix, David Laws was once Vice President of JP Morgan and Co and based in the United States, before becoming Managing Director of Barclays de Zoete Wedd in 1992.

Now, in my book the most obvious candidate for the job of Chancellor, or Chief Secretary to the Treasury,  was surely Vince Cable, a man credited for his prescience in predicting the financial crisis, respected for his ongoing analysis of that crisis and regarded as a “scourge of City ‘fat cats’.” Continue reading… ›

A fair deal for Iceland

8th January, 2009

This piece appeared on the Guardian’s Comment site:

“Today the people of Iceland, a country whose population, at 317,000, is somewhat smaller than Leicester’s, are required by the British political, financial and economic establishment to carry the full burden of the losses suffered by Landsbanki’s depositor programme Icesave.

We consider this to be unfair, for the following reasons.

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York Minster EBOR lecture

12th December 2009

At the end of last month I delivered the prestigious EBOR lecture at York. My address was entitled:

“Credit, usury and political power: chasing the moneylenders from the temple that is our democracy”

Click on the link below to read a PDF version of the full lecture:

EBOR Lecture November 25th (PDF)

The pre-budget report: bullies in the playground

9th December, 2009

It has been an extraordinary day this day, and something to witness: this frenzy of pre-election fisticuffs.

Extraordinary because Conservatives, like mindless bullies, are fighting a phoney war against the victims of this crisis.

The fact is the Tories are spineless scaredy cats, too timid to take on the perpetrators, who have successfully bribed them with various inducements, including the playground’s shiniest marbles.

As a result they have turned away from the perpetrators, and   are picking on nurses, policemen, teachers, civil servants, Alzheimer-carers, school cooks, hospital cleaners and psychiatrists – to categorise but a few.

All these victims of the financial crisis now stand accused – by the Tories and their friends –  of pillaging Treasury coffers of £250 billion  – the rise in government debt since this crisis started in 2007.

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The Treasury Privatised

29 October, 2009

Dan Roberts has a great column in the Guardian today. He asks the right questions. First, why is the Treasury spending £8 billion of taxpayers money reinflating the housing market? Second, why is the Treasury encouraging this now nationalised bank to increase mortgage lending, when the productive sector of the economy – companies, small businesses et al – are being starved of loans from taxpayer-bailed-out-banks, or else having to borrow at usurious rates?

A superb report from the Centre for Research on Socio Cultural Change at Manchester  (“An alternative report on UK banking reform”) suggests the answer: The nationalisation of Northern Rock is being treated as an “equity style turn around”, with the overarching objective of protecting and creating value for the taxpayer as shareholder.

It is not clear whether the banks have been nationalised or the Treasury has been privatised as a new kind of investment fund.

It makes perfect sense doesn’t it, given that the Treasury is advised on these matters (some would say it has been captured) almost exclusively by bankers? Get reading the CRESC report -its excellent –  the first piece of independent, academic thinking on reform of the banking sector to have crossed my path.

Disarming the Financiers

1st December 2008

Watching our British politicians squabble and spin this last week over the Pre Budget Report – while Rome burns –  was depressing. Why are our politicians so off-beam? Why does their response to this crisis seem so petty and botched?

The answer may lie in their ties to the finance sector. The fact is we are experiencing what will be a prolonged Bankers’ Depression – born in the City of London, not in the US sub-prime market. Neither of our major political parties is willing to admit that; to analyse the crisis in those terms and therefore to lay the blame on the finance sector and to rein it in. They are too compromised.

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