Monthly Archives: January 2009

Jim Pickard

One advantage of a blog is you can flag up curiosities before they become mainstream news. Take the threat of industrial action over foreign workers, which I mentioned here three weeks ago.

I mention this before drawing your attention to a small and obscure clause in the Hooper report on the modernisation of the Royal Mail. Read more

Jim Pickard

You might have already read about the 10 Downing Street gift shop failing to pass on the VAT cut: Now it emerges that the Cabinet War Rooms are having similar problems… Read more

Jim Pickard

It may seem incredible to some. But the MP for Rushcliffe has changed his mind after two decades of refusing to use a mobile phone – to the frustration of anyone trying to get hold of him.

What’s more, he is now using a Blackberry. Or at least owns one. It appears that fellow Tories want Clarke to be instantly accessible now he is in the shadow cabinet. Wonders never cease. Read more

Jim Pickard

Gordon Brown has made huge political capital out of his desire to reform the international system of bank regulation. This, he regularly implies, could have prevented the downturn. And it was something he has been arguing for (apparently) for over a decade.

Funny then that Lord Turner, chair of the Financial Services Authority, doesn’t agree. A line buried deep in today’s Times (from business editor David Wighton’s column) says “Turner….told me yesterday, international standards and better co-ordination would have made little difference to the course of the credit crisis. It would not have improved the Federal Reserve’s regulation of Citigroup or the FSA’s regulation of Northern Rock.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Full marks to Baroness Royall, leader of the Lords, for announcing plans for a new law which could lead to Lords being suspended, expelled or even lose their title if they break the rules (albeit if the Tories and Lib Dems thought of it first).

But am I the only one feeling a little sceptical? Read more

Jim Pickard

It was in an FT interview the other day that David Cameron said a Tory government would cut the number of MPs in the Commons by 10 per cent – a plan which would fall hardest on Wales for demographic reasons.

Interesting then that Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Welsh secretary (you learn something new every day), has been in the Commons insisting: “The Committee on Standards in Public Life has recommended a cut in the number of MPs across the UK….The special circumstances that pertain to Wales will, of course, continue to do so.” Read more

Jim Pickard

I wrote on this blog two weeks ago about how PFI* schemes were struggling to get away in these difficult times – with serious implications for the government. It seems it will be much harder for Gordon Brown to carry out his Keynesian infrastructure programme than he implied a few weeks back.

The PM has claimed that he can simply shuffle forward money from existing three-year budgets to get new schools, hospitals and roads built. But what if this only helps to compensate for the draining away of PFI funding? Read more

Never underestimate the hazards of writing columns before embarking on a political career. Here’s Michael Gove’s take on Ken Clarke in 2002.

For the Conservatives to return to power, the party must be seen to have learnt from its mistakes, rejected the arrogance, cynicism and pocketlining of the Major era, developed a tone of voice appropriate to an anti-politician age and come up with a reforming agenda for the public services which respects professional as well as personal freedom. Read more

Jim Pickard

In the year to April 2008 about 300,000 people joined the waiting list for council housing, which now features one in 12 families in the UK.

In part this is a grim reflection of the economic downturn and rising repossessions (up 92 per cent since last year, according to new figures from the FSA today). Read more

Jim Pickard

hain-face.jpgPeter Hain’s hopes of returning to a cabinet position won’t be helped by today’s report from the Commons’ committee on standards and privileges.

The report has stern words for Hain’s late registration of £103,000 in January of donations to his (unsuccessful) campaign to become deputy leader of Labour. Read more

Jim Pickard

Word reaches me that Laurence Faircloth, south-west regional officer for Unite, has dropped out of the battle to be joint head of Britain’s biggest union. Apparently he has thrown his lot in with Derek Simpson, the embattled encumbent.

Jerry Hicks, one of the remaining three challengers, suggests that the branches which backed Faircloth won’t necessarily follow his move, which may be an attempt to “save his own skin”* in case Simpson wins. Read more


Jim Pickard

It’s the question being asked today – and the best explanation I’ve seen is in this morning’s Lex column:

Britain came off the gold standard in 1931 and sterling devalued by 28 per cent. The economic crisis that followed marked the end of the UK as a global power. It also led to an effective default on almost half the national debt, which was restructured into bonds still outstanding. Parallels with today are eerie. Since the middle of 2007, the trade-weighted pound has fallen by 27 per cent. Furthermore, as the government shoulders contingent liabilities for ever greater amounts of delinquent bank debt, worries are growing about the state’s finances. Read more


Will George Osborne and Ken Clarke see eye to eye on the big economic issues? So far, the record has been decidedly patchy. Indeed, in recent years it is hard to find anything they agree on. Read more


A politically explosive economic policy was smuggled into the bank bailout today. With little fanfare, the Bank of England was given a green light to start printing money, should it deign it necessary to do so. Welcome to the world of “quantitative easing”. Read more

Jim Pickard

This blog asked yesterday morning whether Gordon Brown really meant what he said when he demanded that banks should quantify all of their toxic loans.

A research note put out on Friday by analysts – at RBS, ironically – points out that “the domestic UK banks are technically insolvent on a full marked-to-market basis” (although it adds that this is not unusual at this stage in the economic cycle). Is the prime minister sure that he wants them all to come clean? Read more

Jim Pickard

I know, it’s not quite an anagram…but I like the idea of Ken Clarke as a pot-bellied, cigar-smoking superman come to save the Tories from their credit crunch-induced sense of drift.

And yes, you read it here first – maybe – that the 68-year old has at last agreed to make a return to the Tory front bench as shadow business secretary. This is part of a wider reshuffle in which Alan Duncan will remain in the shadow cabinet. Read more

Jim Pickard

This morning’s papers were full of info about the new insurance package which will help out any British bank which accepts the government’s offer. Here is the story on

The real news to emerge since then is the fact that banks will be able to pay for this insurance using either cash or equity. In other words, we may see taxpayers taking an even bigger stake in RBS or Lloyds/HBOS. In theory the state may even take stakes in other banks – such as HSBC or Barclays - although this seems unlikely for now.

Jim Pickard

Here’s a maths puzzle to test the most numerate of readers.

Taxpayers put £5bn into RBS in the form of preference shares in October. The bank now has a market capitalisation of £13.7bn (as of Friday night). Read more

Jim Pickard

The Audit Commission has downgraded the ratings of five local authorities for the sin of putting some of their money in Iceland.

As you may remember from this blog, the commission itself was forced to admit – at about the same time – that it had been keeping millions in the country once described (long before the bank failures) as “a giant hedge fund”. Read more