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The Tory truth

I think I may just have had my Tory moment. The aphorism goes that normal people start off their thinking on the idealist left wing but as we grow older and more cynical, so we all become Tories in the end. I never thought it would happen to me. But two months ago, this column called for the wholesale reform of the FSA and this month that was stated in a Tory report proposal.

Party politics has always tacitly controlled regulation, in that the FSA tends to do what the Treasury implies it thinks it should. But now the politicians of both stripes have shed their invisibility cloak. Just as the Tories feel that making public their plans to reform the FSA will win votes, so Hector Sants announces the end of light-touch regulation and a clampdown designed to show that the Treasury is slamming shut the stable door.

Their timing was sadly not driven by this column but by the FSA’s failure to properly regulate wholesale banking and the agony that it is causing Britain. But as every IFA should remind their Tory candidate at once (I doubt the FSA or Treasury will be in listening mode), the damage the FSA has wrought on retail sales of prudent investments and savings is a match for the destruction it allowed the banks to cause, even if its agony lies in the future and does not have such immediately frightening impact.

Through pretending to have power it did not have in the wholesale markets and through overzealous use of the power it does have in the retail markets, the FSA has followed the Treasury’s lead and destroyed personal financial prudence. Like the Prime Minister himself, the FSA has achieved the very opposite of what it sought to achieve.

Sir Callum McCarthy acknowledged this when he launched the RDR and its erratic path clearly revealed the muddled Treasury thinking and confused brief that has consistently been the root cause of regulatory failure. Happily, sense has prevailed and, despite its several good parts, the RDR as a whole will now simply fade into several small policy initiatives rather than become the strident reality Sir Callum seemed originally to envisage.

That is why the FSA set the retail distribution implementation plan timescale so that the next election can decide its fate. They are not certain enough of their ground to go it alone and want a newly minted political mandate behind them before they actually change the retail landscape.

This gentle end to the RDR’s hideously expensive life will follow that of principle-based regulation just last week, continuing the long tradition of spectacular FSA U-turns. Sants has simply consigned the vast amounts of investment ordered by his predecessor to the bin. We will not be able to recoup the millions of hours and pounds and trees spent complying with what he is now scrapping. We must merely accept whatever new cost his new idea causes us.

But don’t blame the message boy. This egregious result is clearly rooted in the rapidly changing political brief from the Treasury. Its panic has meant the cure for crooked bankers is being forced on all of us who have caused no such systemic damage.

Revolt is tempting but not practical so we can but hope that the Tory plan to revert to separate regimes for wholesale and retail markets will come in time to halt the thrashings about of the broken bureaucratic monster that amateur idealism and now political panic has forced upon the IFA.

Tom Baigrie is managing director of LifeSearch and Baigrie Davies & Co


People on the move: Investment 19/03/2009

New Star UK alpha fund manager Tim Steer is leaving the firm to join Artemis. Steer is to remain with New Star through its transition process with Henderson, which is set to conclude in April, and will continue to run both the UK alpha and hedge fund Gemini until then.

FSA Turner-round

This morning’s press conference with Adair Turner lacked frantic media scrums, flashing camera bulbs and even hearty heckling from reporters about the FSA’s failings.

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