The Masters of the Universe are put to the question, and with many responses show the fright of rabbits skewered by the approaching headlights of doom.
Into which delightful private misery, the Lady in Malcolm’s life inserts two comments:
- It makes a change to see fire and brimstone being heaped on the heads of others than teachers.
- Haringey Social Services looks good by comparison: they only lose a child every four or five years. This lot have imposed misery on millions for any foreseeable future.
To adapt King Lear:
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt; that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless HSBC customer! Away, away!
Not, of course, that endowment policies played any part in Milady’s Ulster venom.
In all this lies a neat analogy.
There is an interesting little note (available on line) from 1975 hidden in the Margaret Thatcher archive. It is a note from Adam Ridley to Thatcher:
I formed the strong impression that the Bank [of England] are more worried about the inflationary situation than some other parts of the official machine… First, they have recently carried out an elaborate analysis of [wage] settlements in the public and private sector since the TUC’s wage guidelines were published last June, taking care to consider not only the size of the individual awards but the period between settlements. As far as I can gather their conclusion is that though private sector settlements may on average be of smaller size than those in the public sector, their greater frequency has led to a faster rate of growth in wage rates in the private sector. This is consistent with the information one can glean from the FT’s monthly survey.
These are the words of the later Sir Adam Ridley of Hambros (remember them?), and the Director General of the London Investment Banking Association. Clearly an expert witness, he is advising Thatcher that her anti-public sector rhetoric is misdirected. In the mid-70s it was the private sector stoking up the wage-inflation. Somehow, that accusation went unheard.
The bane of Thatcher still percolates through the British blood-system. She not only did for much of British productive industry, but her manias led to our present debilities.
Let us focus on the housing market, for therein lie the festerings of our “toxic debt”, both sides of the Atlantic. It was, in passing, also a debt which was predicated to continued oversaving (now, there‘s something straight out of the Marxist manual!) in the Chinese economy, to be reinvested in dollar stocks.
First, there was the “right to buy”, which ensured that the most desirable local authority real estate was sold off at gunpoint, leaving the decaying residue in public hands, and a destitute underclass trapped into ghettos. Let us pass over that national disaster as decently as possible.
More significant, though, is the destruction of the mutuals. For most people (like Malcolm and his ilk) the first step on the property ladder was not a mortgage, but a savings account with a Building Society. How quaint!
When one had proved one’s prudence by accumulating a decent deposit, one might be granted a mortgage. That was a system which had survived two World Wars and numerous other tribulations. It was not, of course, good enough for the Heralds of Free Enterprise. In the late 1980s, Thatcherism deliberately blurred the distinctions between banks and mutual building societies. In short order, the Societies “demutualised” (which meant they became banks in their own right) and then were absorbed by the bigger beasts in the banking jungle. This was made possible by the Thatcherite Building Societies Act of 1986.
Almost by programme, the Herald of Free Enterprise piled onto the sandbank in March 1987: it was an omen of what was to happen to the rest of the free-enterprise banking system.
Let us remember that the jury at the inquest on the 187 killed at Zeebrugge were warned by the Coroner they could bring in a verdict of unlawful killing only if they:
believed a criminal act had been committed and that there had been gross negligence.
The jury did just that.
The sand-bank off the Belgian coast no more leaped unannounced on the Free Enterprise ferry than did the housing crisis on the bankers. Nor was it all written in the stars. In both cases the disaster, as history will record, should have been foreseeable. Both were the result of overweening ambition and carelessness. So we might conclude, of Thatcherites, bankers, and ferry operators, as Dryden said, back in 1681, of Shaftesbury:
A daring pilot in extremity;
Pleas’d with the danger, when the waves went high
He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near alli’d;
And thin partitions do their bounds divide…