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Fresh out of shame

The principle of leaning against the cycle is easy to agree. For some reason, this sentence, taken from Alastair Darling’s statement to the House of Commons on reforming financial markets, worries me – and I don’t think it is just because it appears that the Chancellor is borrowing soundbites from fortune cookies or possibly cryptic crossword clues in The Times.

Eight letters. Something, something, something, something – then e, n, something, e. Er…could it be prudence? Possibly although it could equally be nonsense. We will have to wait until we get some other clues.

Yes, yes, I know it is both easy and fashionable to take a pop at the poor little Darl- ing but that does not mean we should not do it. I did think St Vincent of Cable describing the statement as the Chancellor’s “living will” was unnecessarily cruel but that is only because I have not been able to get a Cliff Richard song out of my mind ever since. All together now – “Wrote myself an airy-fairy, vague yet scary living will.”

Am I being unfair? After all, regardless of my scepticism of the UK being able to spend its way out of recession – particular if one has ignored that part of Keynesianism that says one needs to save in the good times in order to be able to splurge in the bad – the bank rescue looks to be working.

Nevertheless, this is also the man who can say, apparently with a straight face, that “we will legislate to set up a new Council for Financial Stability – which will bring together the Bank of England, the FSA and the Treasury”. Doesn’t this look suspiciously like the same regulatory trio that has hardly covered itself in glory over the last decade? Truly a tripartite committee by any other name would smell…no, that’s it – it would just smell.

Whether or not I am being unfair, I am, of course, being terribly ungrateful because, as the Chancellor made clear throughout his statement, everything he does, he does it for me. Well, not me personally, but for every UK consumer.

We were namechecked 10 times in total, usually with a view to our being empowered and generally receiving more choice and value – nor to mention access to redress in the unlikely event that, under the reign of the Council for Financial Stability, anything goes wrong ever again.

And it is not just the Chancellor who is so concerned about our wellbeing, Gratifyingly, we were squarely in the thinking of many of the organisations who responded to the statement in the time-honoured fashion of “We broadly welcome this but…”

Speaking personally, the one that rang truest came from Motley Fool director David Kuo, who said: “The solution is not over-regulation but instead to show investors how to protect their wealth against unforeseen events.” Far be it from me, however, to suggest others were merely using the consumer as a way of pushing their own agenda.

Oops, there I go again with the whole mean-spiritedness thing. I will move swiftly on – pausing only to acknowledge that mortgages very much are not my beat – to Nationwide’s splendidly hurt reaction to coverage of the launch of its new 125 per cent mortgage.

The press release I received the next day, which positively reeked of wounded indignation, seemed to suggest that one or two journalists may have formed the wholly misguided impression that Nationwide had rather forgotten the last two years had ever happened. Nothing could be further from the truth, sniffed the company, which was at pains to stress what a responsible lender it was.

What is more, the mortgage would not be available to just anyone but only to those who are in negative equity, need to move home, meet the strict lending criteria, have a good credit record and allow three Nationwide employees to live with them for a three-month period just so the company can ensure everybody knows exactly where they stand.

Actually, I may have made the last bit up but clearly this mortgage is nothing short of a public service – albeit one that carries a fairly chunky price tag – and anyone who thinks other- wise should be ashamed of themselves. Me? No, after everything, I have written about that poor, misunderstood Chancellor, I am afraid I am fresh out of shame.

Julian Marr is editorial director of


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