Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Blunt Instruments ... in the Hands of Incompetents

Today the remarkably well-informed Robert Peston writes:

"The government will announce that in the interests of financial stability it will legislate to over-ride the powers of the OFT and the Competition Commission to block the [Lloyds / HBOS] deal"

Let us set aside the obvious point that Brown may be lying about this (just as he has failed to legislate the promised extension to the guarantee for bank depositors' money).

The bigger issue is how this hanky-panky is being perpetrated: with a very public admission that something smelly is being contemplated, and the threat - possibly an idle one - to legislate sine die to crush all legitimate impediments in its path, thereby enshrining illegitimacy, demoralising the regulators, and reinforcing the air of anarchy.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for decisive, worldy-wise actions when they are called for, as described here last week. And I am also for giving regulators stern mandates and plenty of backbone, a theme I shall return to. However, in this instance the way it should have been done was a quiet word with the OFT and Competition Commission, along the following lines:

* * *
Chaps, we are all of one mind on the unacceptability of dominant market positions. However, the key objective just now is to keep the bicycle upright. When we all notice in a couple of years that one particular bank has become a little too dominant for all our likings, you'll be set on to write one of your big reports, and we'll slim the Big Boy down in the usual manner, get my drift ?

In the meantime, let's find a form of words to waive this one through, shall we, without prejudice to any of our powers to sort things out properly in quieter times. (Ofgem does this all the time, doncha know, when it's asked to give waivers on third-party access rules in big new energy infrastructure investments.
Let 'em build it first !, that's the motto, and we'll straighten things out later. You won't get them to part with their money otherwise, eh ? Works every time ...)

* * *
But no: we have the most senior government ministers crashing around with blunt instruments in hand, smashing everything in the chinashop, probably falling foul of the EC - see Hatfield Girl here, and bringing the game into disrepute. This is categorically not the way.



Old BE said...

That used to be the British way, but no longer. We have painted ourselves into a corner and I have no idea how we go back.

lilith said...

They are such morons. No diplomacy, no tact, no skill. Just a "Clunking Fist". Who thought that was a positive image in the first place? But Brown must have liked it.

Ps. Is it a requirement for financial journalists to talk like Robert Peston? Spit it out man....! He pauses randomly at odd points in his sentences as if he had a stuttering autocue. I want to throttle him.

Simon Fawthrop said...

They propbably think it makes Brown look decisive.

Anonymous said...

Upset the EC? Oh good, then let's grab the chance and leave the EU. ....
Actually, wouldn't that be Broon's only way to win an election?

Bill Quango MP said...

Had this exact conversation with CU yesterday night.His example was similar to yours ND.

Do you still think he is the man 'best placed to be getting on with the job time for long term stability etc etc' CU?

Unsworth said...

Indeed, the astoundingly well-informed Peston. So much so that he's now covering his backside in a big way. Why might that be do you suppose?

Anonymous said...

Dearieme: No. Neither our present Great Leader nor his Boy King understudy has any willingness even to consider leaving the EU. They are both sold out traitors in every pore of their being. The only way that this little incident will leave us outside the EU when the dust settles is if we upset them so greatly that they throw us out. To that end, this move is insufficient. At present, they will just take the UK to the ECJ for infraction and fine us whatever is left of our remaining national wealth.

So the big question is: what can we engineer that will cause this government to "misbehave" (in EU think) so sufficiently "badly" that they show us the door? What can we do?

Nick Drew said...

I suppose we must hope Cameron can deliver, BE

Seems to me Peston is playing a high-risk game, Lilith, & Mr U, so perhaps a bit of spluttering is to be expected (do we get to see his trousers ?)(sorry)

GS - yes they probably do, they probably do. (Where is Alistair Campbell when Gordon needs him ?)

dearieme - perhaps, if he weren't already known to be well past his bedtime. But the clock has chimed.

WT*, Mr Q ??, as they say (or am I just being thick, wot with all this excitement ?)

yokel - you have just posed an excellent weekend competition, methinks !

roym said...

if this hadnt been done, there would have been whinging.
now how it's done is the cause of whinging!
do we want to be told how things are supposed to proceed or shall we just let the mandarins whisper over brandy at the reform club for our benefit? what a little corner of merrie england this is sometimes!

Man in a Shed said...

The well informed Mr Preston is announcing that the deal has been signed at 232p / share.

I wonder what the government had to throw in the pot ?

Bill Quango MP said...

Mr Shed.
How very cynical of you. Lloyds Took the decision for sound banking and financial reasons and required no inducements.

PS. As a taxpayer you now own the bottom third of the mortgage books of both NR + HBOS,the redundancy payments for HBOS and the sugar that the union will need for the merger and Lloyds won't be paying any corporation tax for 100 billion years.

Anyone for anymore ideas?

Unsworth said...

"Seems to me Peston is playing a high-risk game, Lilith, & Mr U, so perhaps a bit of spluttering is to be expected (do we get to see his trousers ?)(sorry)"

Given that his voice tends to muffle when he is seated, I'd really rather not have to endure examining his outer nether garments.

Anonymous said...

We should have seen the writing on the wall when Halifax sacked the hugely talented Howard Brown as their TV advert front man.

This is nothing less than what they deserve.

Old BE said...

Roym - the difference is between pulling levers and scribbling memos and what I call "having a quiet word". I have no doubt that the government could rush through legislation to curtail the competition authorities while the turbulence continues, but is that really the best approach?

I think of it as the difference between "power" and "influence". Brown has plenty of one but none of the other.

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