Monday, September 29, 2008
When the building societies "demutualised", I received no windfalls, and no acknowledgment of my letters to the Peebles Times-Picayune stating that demutualisation was a code word which could be better understood by the term "highway robbery", if not "blood money". In those heady days, when council houses were given free with Shredded Wheat, the Conservative government established the principle that money could, indeed, be had for nothing, and that the main point - if not the only point - of government was to hand out this booty with as much fanfare as possible. Since then, no political party - with the possible exception of the Liberal Democrats under the gregarious highlander Mr Charles Kennedy - has felt comfortable with the traditional equation in which public services were understood to be funded by taxation. The New Labour project, stewarded by the Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, has been one in which taxation was more heavily disguised than Mr Tim Turner in The Invisible Man.
Today, apparently, is one of the worst days in banking history. Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley have been nationalised, and their bowler hats banished from the City of London. Their mistake, apparently, was in selling "buy-to-let" mortgages at implausible rates to people who couldn't really afford them. All of the demutualised building societies have now perished, though some of them at least had the good manners to do so without being rescued by the taxpayer.
As I write, the Dow Jones index on Wall Street is plunging at the speed of an Apollo re-entry vehicle, and a conservative Congressman is warning that the rescue plan advocated by the political establishment represents "the slippery slope to socialism". Would that it were so. Such a fate might imply a degree of economic planning, albeit with the side effect that the supermarkets would run short of fresh vegetables while being overstocked with tractor tyres and shoes comprising two left feet.
It's at moments like this that I am grateful that my savings are stored in jamjars in the airing cupboard, behind my wellington boots. There they will stay until conditions improve, or - as seems more likely - hell freezes over, and Caol Ila rains from the marshmallow clouds in the black autumn sky. Then, and only then, will I empty the jamjars.