Tuesday 28 December 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by Jake No comments Labels: , , , , , , , ,
Posted by Jake on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 with No comments | Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Having just reached our fiftieth “Ripped-Off Britons” cartoon in the Guardian, and with the imminent end of 2010, we would like to wish our readers a better New Year than the last one. Why are we so mean-minded? Why not wish you all prosperity? Prosperity is a dubious thing to be wished in a Britain where prosperity has become a threat wielded by the well connected to fend off justice and regulation.

Britain’s treatment of BAE Systems, our country’s biggest remaining manufacturing company, perhaps provides the clearest example. An arms dealer whose defence against prosecution for corruption is not innocence, but loss of prosperity and jobs. A defence that continues to succeed to such a great extent that while some investigations are completely abandoned, even the recently ended legal case in the British High Court was not about whether and to what extent the perpetrator should be punished, but about whether and to what extent the victims should be punished. The Serious Fraud Office, having capped the fine and issued a blanket get-out-of-jail card to BAE over their mischievous, we dare not use the C word, sale of a military air-traffic control radar to a country with virtually no air-force had also agreed that any further fine should be paid by the people of Tanzania. In the form of a deduction from their £30m in compensation money. The SFO clutches at BAE’s straw promise that it has reformed. After all, it’s always worth clutching at straws if someone else is drowning – isn’t it? And BAE’s stench drifts in over the channel from distant lands. In Britain the company only brings prosperity and jobs.

The Financial Services Industry, on the other hand, craps on its own doorstep. For years we have known that we are ripped off by providers of financial services from every angle. As customers we are ripped off by rapacious charges for our borrowings and pitiful returns on our savings. As pension fund holders we are ripped off by the excessive extraction of profits to pay for ridiculous bonuses, leaving our pension funds with meagre compensation for the excessive charges and pitiful returns we suffered to create those profits. And we are comprehensively ripped-off as taxpayers, as has been seen by the massive fines imposed on the industry by the less compromised US authorities, most recently on Deutsche Bank, for aiding tax evasion, and threatened most recently on Ernst & Young for aiding and abetting the ‘Repo 105’ tactics of big banks to hide their swingeing debts culminating in the Credit Crisis.

And yet we in Britain can’t do anything about this, because the Financial Services Industry threatens to decamp to ever more pliant countries, taking their jobs and prosperity with them. The recent revelation by the RSA that for the same lifetime’s investment a Dutchman gets 50% more pension than a Briton because of the excessive charges made by UK fund managers elicited not even a whimper from our watchdogs. Other consumer protectors perform little better. When Npower overcharged its clients for their gas supplies, OFGEM managed to get a £1.2m refund for the victims – leaving it to a posse led by a retired art teacher to pursue the remaining £68.8m that was eventually refunded in October this year.
Regulators provide scant protection for us ripped-off Britons. Whether you are an arms dealer, a banker, a power supplier, or indeed a high street store, there is always some trade association or consortium that will roll out its appalling spokespersons to see off the watchdogs. Under investigation by the OFT for misleading pricing, the British Retail Consortium’s defence was not that their pricing was not misleading, but that British consumers were too smart to be misled by them: “Consumers aren’t stupid” they said. Hyena can justifiably argue that antelope are too fast to require protection. On average this is true – and yet you rarely see a hungry hyena, who live well on the less than average deer. British Retailers don’t require all consumers to be “stupid”, they only require that the vulnerable minority remain unprotected.

Regulation, we are told, is the enemy of prosperity. The FSA, with its catastrophic regulation of the financial services sector, the OFT with its incompetent handling of companies from banks to energy suppliers to shops, the SFO, with its pusillanimous pursuit of the likes of BAE, OFCOM’s tender treatment of phone companies, OFGEM’s cosiness with energy companies, they all bleat that they don’t want to threaten our prosperity by being heavy handed.
Trade associations, regulators, and politicians all rely on our short memories to allow the rip-offs to continue. In the name of prosperity they are firm and forthright in their apathy. Unfortunately, the prosperity is theirs and not ours – be it excessive bonuses, keeping the career doors revolving between regulator and regulated, or comfortable directorships and consultancies for the retired political classes.

So we ripped-off Britons are left to see to our own safety. Our cartoon takes a small part of its inspiration from a tactic used by Cato the Elder, a senator of ancient Rome, who ended his speeches regardless of the topic with the statement “Carthago delenda est”, Carthage must be destroyed.
“The price of bread in the forum is too high. And Carthage must be destroyed”
“The disposal of garbage, from vegetables to corpses, in the Avantine is deplorable. The stench in Rome would be immediately reduced if a weekly chucking into the Tiber was implemented. And Carthage must be destroyed”
“And to conclude, the Senate must surely wish to pass on its best wishes to Caecilius Claudius Metellus on the birth of his son. May the boy live long and prosperously, may his fields burgeon, may his cattle prove fecund. And Carthage must be destroyed.”

We look forward to a year of cartooning reminders that we are being ripped-off. Not the rip-offs by small-time shysters and the statutory criminal classes. But the far greater legalised rip-offs by many of Britain’s most respected companies and professionals. And by reminding you of the rip-offs, make you grumpy. For the politicians fear your grumpiness far more than they fear your anger. Anger is hard to coordinate over an extended period. Keep your grumpiness glowing, and keep it ready as a threat for the next election!

So, from Hari and Jake, as well as a better year than the last, here’s wishing you thirty seconds of cartoonish grumpiness every few days in the new year.


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