Thursday, 23 June 2011

Shares with No Value on Offer from Politician with No Values

You couldn't make it up! But trust (if you dare) Nick Clegg to do just that.

Eying his party's rock bottom poll share, our unloved Deputy Prime Minister has come up with a wheeze he obviously thinks will curry favour with recession-hit voters. He wants the State to divest itself of the two fully owned state banks - Lloyds and RBS - by giving shares to every adult in the UK free of charge, which they can sell once they reach the price the State originally paid for them back in 2008/2009. This would be 50p per share in RBS and 73p in Lloyds and we would all get 1,450 and 450 shares in each bank respectively. BUT, the rub is that you could only sell the shares for the excess over the price paid by the State, so that the Government can recoup the cost of its original purchase of the banks.

Nick's big giveaway works like this: if your RBS shares reach 60p each, you can sell them and you get exactly 10p per share (60p sales price less the original 50p which goes back to the State). So  that would leave you with as much as £145 minus tax of £29 and sales commission of maybe £8 leaves £108. It is always something I guess, the moment, the shares are actually worth less than the State paid for them - 45p for RBS and 37p for Lloyds.

So the Great Plan is to give the citizens of the UK approximately £15 billions of debt in these banks. Not really an even vaguely attractive prospect, but somehow very apt for the hapless Deputy PM and, of course, his ever chippy sidekick Vince Cable, the eminence incapable of the Coalition.

Clegg's model was used to sell off Soviet industry to the Russian mafia
With the Lib Dems standing at just 1% of the vote in the latest poll for London Mayor (and outpolled by 13 to 1 by the Greens among 18 to 24 year olds), offering the public something that has absolutely no value at all seems to summarise their prospectus and prospects more eloquently than anything any of their opponents could possibly dream up.

A pity though, that these soulless men, shorn of any tattered shred of Keynesian Liberal principle, should squander the golden opportunity they have to transform the banking sector from a focus of greed into a genuinely mutual or co-operative sector, funding sustainable recovery. The nationalised banks could have been precisely the right vehicles to create a network of community banks, supporting prudent investment in social enterprises and co-operatives, helping individuals and communities to restore their fortunes.

Certainly that was the sort of approach the old Liberals argued for that back when the financial sector still had a large mutual segment in the form of the building societies. They opposed the Tories' sale of state-owned Girobank in 1989 (ultimately to be part of Santander) and an SDP peer, Lord Taylor of Gryffe, led the opposition to the theft of the Trustees Savings Bank from its depositors and its subsequent sale to the private sector (ironically ultimately to Lloyds) by the Thatcher Government. These days are clearly long gone.

By contrast, the model proposed by Clegg is one first widely used in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, where it was known as Voucher privatisation.  There, state assets were stripped and given away to all citizens in the form of low value share vouchers (at the behest of the ever eager advisers sent out there by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation). The Russian mafia made a (financial) killing as desperate people sold their shares off cheap to grab a few roubles - much as many would do with the pittance offered by Thatcherite Nick's sale of the century in recessionary Britain.

Desperate men employing desperate measures; but at a huge cost of missed opportunities and squandered assets which could have been employed so much better for the Common Wealth.

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