Tuesday 14 October 2008

Far from quiet on the Peston front

For days now I have been waiting in vain for Robert Peston to appear on the BBC in full clown make-up, wearing a revolving bow tie, and attempt to lighten the tone by cracking one of those “I’ve got some good news and some bad news” jokes.

Children in Need appeal organisers: you read it here first, but do help yourselves to the idea.

At least I have now grown so used to his distinctive delivery that I have stopped trying to re-tune the radio whenever he comes on in the morning, imagining that the extraordinary noises he makes are some sort of interference.

Robert Peston’s is truly the voice of today. Or rather yesterday, since I am writing this on the Monday when the world teetered on the brink of a new dark age of mass unemployment, poverty, fury, criminality and dictatorship. Or on the historic date when some technical difficulties in the capital markets were decisively corrected, and everything muddled on much as before.

It is hard to know which way to bet, though regular readers will know that I am not one of nature’s optimists. The fact that it has all come to a head on October 13th is also a bit worrying for the superstitious.

It must be so much easier to keep smiling, boozing and spending when you have got nothing much to lose. The great crash of 2008 is proving a splendid leveller as those who have put money aside for a rainy day discover that the dampness is actually arriving in the form of a tsunami. A year ago I was fretting because my pension fund was worth less than a third of what it needed to be. Now it has halved and retirement has become an impossibly distant fantasy.

I made the simple mistake of investing my savings in the stock market, because all analyses show that it delivers superior returns in the long run (in which, sadly, we are also all dead). What I should have done, with the benefit of hindsight, is put it all in some dodgy Icelandic bank offering an implausibly high rate of interest, ignoring the conventional warning that higher returns imply greater risk. That way I’d have got the Government to hand me my stake money back, with a friendly pat on the head.

Did it never strike you as odd that a country with a population little larger than that of Newcastle, and no obvious natural resources beyond gesyers and cod, should be supporting a huge banking sector and buying up every other retail chain on the British high street? It always seemed a bit fishy to me (no pun intended).

Now Iceland is on its back with its legs in the air, and our thoughts must turn to another sparsely populated, ill-favoured, gloomy little country on the fringe of the Arctic circle, whose banks have also just turned their faces to the wall. Yes, it’s Scotland, home of the Royal Bank, HBOS and Lloyds TSB. The last may not seem like a Scottish bank in any meaningful sense, but it does have its registered office in Edinburgh as yet another example of our decades of pandering to our chippy Celtic fringe.

Now is surely the time for bold and radical action. Let us give Alex Salmond the independence he so craves, and let the Scottish taxpayer pick up the entire bill for that little lot. By way of compensation, we could let them have Robert Peston to tell them cheery stories as they huddle around their wind-up radios, eating cold porridge by the light of a single guttering candle.

At last, for the first time since the crisis broke, I have managed to conjure up an image that has really cheered me up.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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