15th December 2010
There are plenty of parallels between today’s events and that 20th century novel of revolutionary France: ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’. Like reckless French aristocrats, bankers are once again preparing to flaunt their annual bonuses to a population looted of its wealth and well-being by a financial elite impervious to criticism.
As today, so then. The French Revolution was in part triggered by France’s antiquated financial system, unable to manage the national debt, something both partially caused and exacerbated by the burden of an inadequate system of taxation. And just as in the novel, so today the hunt is on for a ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’: “They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That demned elusive Pimpernel.”
No, I am not referring to Mr Assange and Wikileaks….but to the anonymous author of a National Audit Office Report – essential reading for British taxpayers….and all readers of this column: “Maintaining the financial stability of UK banks: Update on the support schemes.” As in taxpayer support for bankers. That support, according to our ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ at the National Audit Office, currently stands at £512 billion. £512bn would just about pay the total bill for the National Health Service for the next five years. It is just a little less than this year’s total government budget.
According to the report, the government (that is, you and me as British taxpayers) is nursing a paper loss of £12.5bn on its holdings in RBS and Lloyds….assuming their shares could be sold in one go.” Which is why it was so completely unacceptable for the FSA to withhold their report on the reasons for the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland – and the need for a taxpayer bail-out. It is good to hear the news this afternoon that they have now been pressured to issue that report….(Congratulations to Alex Brummer at the Daily Mail for his campaign to get the report published…).
“Meanwhile”, according to the report, “the Government is paying some £5 billion a year…. in interest on the Government borrowing raised to finance the purchase of shares and loans to banks. This ongoing cost is material in terms of the overall public finances and deficit. This £5 billion a year was not included in the Treasury’s previous estimates of the loss to the taxpayer, because the Treasury does not consider them to be direct costs. (My italics.) The estimated £5 billion a year interest on this debt is 11 per cent of the total £44 billion forecast to be paid in interest on public sector debt in 2010-11.”
Officers of the National Audit Office do not have the same charisma or cache as the founder of Wikileaks…and its spokespeople cannot be half as interesting as that old fop, Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel……but they are upholding the principles of transparency and accountability…..truly radica, even possibly, revolutionary,l in the secret, complacent and complicit world of Britain’s financial and political elites……