Are we approaching the end of the end of the beginning?
Back in his 2011 Mansion House speech, George Osborne lifted the words made famous by Sir Winston Churchill in the same room, following what was then a rare away victory at El Alamein. The chancellor’s version, of course, was slightly less heroic, more a party political designed to drum into voters what an almighty Horlicks he’d inherited, which would take time to fix.
Osborne has been careful to stick to that line, despite an upturn that will get more air time this week. Depending on which economist’s guess you prefer, Tuesday’s GDP figures will suggest the UK economy grew by around 2.6% in 2014, after expanding by about 0.6% in the final quarter.
Positive news? Maybe. Those on the political right will argue this shows Osborne’s policies were correct (even though he’s missed his deficit-reduction targets and his recovery has been as balanced as Sir Winston at a cocktail party). Those on the left will say the chancellor got lucky (even though they might once have suggested he was about to wreck everything).
All of which neatly illustrates politics, as Churchill once observed. “Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year,” he said, “and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
Housebuilders on crest of wave
Another day, another illustration of how being chief executive of a housebuilding company is currently among the world’s best jobs.
It’s Crest Nicholson’s full-year results on Tuesday, and eight analysts out of nine reckon its shares are a buy. Among those hoping that the scribblers have got this guess right is Stephen Stone, the builder’s chief exec: he was gifted 12m Crest shares by its former private equity owners when he floated the business two years ago. He still has 4.7m of those, and the 65% rise in the value of the group means they are now worth about £17m.
Exceptional rewards, then, for an exceptional executive. Only some cynics reckon the soaring shares might have had more to do with the chancellor. Irritatingly for Stone, some rivals’ shares have risen even faster.
So can anyone make a fortune by currently landing a housebuilding exec gig? Of course not, even though efforts to downplay these glib notions are not helped by the discovery that Crest’s finance director is one Patrick Bergin. That theory falls down with the shock discovery he’s actually a chartered accountant, not the Patriot Games actor seeking an easier payday.
A light grilling for the watchdog
The City has few peers in the sphere of financial farce, as we’ll be gloriously reminded this week.
Martin Wheatley, boss of the City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, is due alongside his chairman, John Griffith-Jones, to face the Treasury select committee, where the pair will have a stab at explaining just how their organisation inadvertently knocked £3bn off insurers’ stock market values last year after botching a briefing given to a newspaper (before then taking six-and-a-half hours to notice that the report was flawed and telling the markets to calm down).
So a nervous weekend for Wheatley? Probably not. As a former head financial watchdog in Hong Kong, he considers our politicians a comparative breeze.
“[In the UK] I have to appear occasionally in front of the Treasury select committee and they’ll give me a pretty tough time for an hour or so,” he once mused to the Independent. “In Hong Kong I think my record was 11 hours in one session. They would be shouting at me in Cantonese and I would be listening to an earpiece to an interpreter. I remember after one of those sessions one of my team saying how they thought that it was amazing that I remained calm.”
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