Mystic Gaz – Ten predictions for 2014

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What better way to start the new year than with some predictions eh? Predictions are much easier than resolutions: there is no implied permanency of action or intent. One can just make a prediction, write it down, walk away and forget about it until a given time (if indeed, a time is specified), and then (if it turns out true) bask in a smug all-knowing glow, or (if it is false) marvel at the randomness and unpredictability of the chaotic world we live in.

I suppose the best way to make predictions is to abandon any personal notions of optimism or pessimism, and instead just follow the trajectory of events to a logical progression. But the world rarely works like that does it? Last year, I would have had no inkling that within days of the new year, the words ‘Horse Meat’ would come to dominate our screens, papers and radios – because there was no precedent. Similarly in 2012, unless I had been a keen follower of Russian fem-punk outfits I would have never been able to predict that I would get the childish joy of hearing BBC newsreaders saying the words “Pussy Riot” over and over again (which, I maintain to this day they take great pleasure from – next time you hear a report on ‘Pussy Riot’, listen to the aplomb and clarity by which the presenter pronounces the name).

I guess that last paragraph was to excuse myself for wild inaccuracies or glaring omissions should the following predictions be reviewed this time next year. I will now set out ten predictions, covering various aspects of our world, mostly based on the news headings you find on the BBC news website (which as we all know are the ancient categories of all life entrusted to the guardians of knowledge by the great sun God Ra himself).

To get us in the mood, the first five predictions are ‘quick fire’ and not at all serious:

  1. George Osborne will pull such an evil face in a photograph that anyone who looks at it will be immediately turned into a Tory. (Note – replace George Osborne with ‘Iain Duncan Smith’ or ‘Michael Gove’ if you wish.)
  2. Nick Clegg will call someone a bigot on camera and no one will care. This will cause Clegg to go on a rampage, running around the streets of Sheffield naked, pointing at people and shouting all manner of abuse. Still, no one will care.
  3. The hysteria over the ‘influx’ of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants will continue regardless of any actual facts or evidence. One newspaper will coin the term ‘Bromanian’ to further homogenise two whole nations of people into one nasty baddy who is coming over here to steal the jobs we don’t have from the people who don’t want them.
  4. Google and Amazon will join forces and declare themselves the ‘winners’.
  5. In a bid to outdo herself, a naked Miley Cyrus will inject heroin into her eyeballs live on stage while licking a rod of weapons grade plutonium.

Now onto the serious (or at least semi considered) predictions. As when playing Trivial Pursuit, let’s get the difficult category out of the way first:

 

Prediction 6: Sport – England won’t win the World Cup.

Ok, ok, so I’ve gone for a bit of a freebie here when it comes to sport. I’m  not really a ‘sport’ man (I’m definitely not a sportsman) but I do like a bit of football here and there, and I do enjoy the international tournaments (and not, I must say, because of England, though I do watch them for the few matches they play before being inevitably and anti-climatically eliminated).

Let’s face it, looking at the likes of Spain and hosts Brazil (who I guess in a little sub-prediction, will face each other in the final if that’s possible, or at the latest possible knock-out stage, the winner of that match going on to win the competition) – England aren’t going to win. I’m not going to give you detailed or technical reasons as to why (because I can’t), but I will tease that it might have something to do with Wayne Rooney’s hair graft causing a major upset in the Amazonian city of Manaus.

Other sport will happen too. I can guarantee that.

 

Prediction 7: Business – Sometime in late Autumn, America will look over the ‘fiscal cliff’.

Well, it’s almost tradition now isn’t it? I think it’s generally around October time that the American government propose and vote on the ‘debt ceiling’ and come to loggerheads about it. This year it got so bad that the White House gift shop had to close for a week or two, so as you can see, this is serious stuff. Similarly, back home, we will see the budget announcement in March as always, where slight variations of percentages will be announced, poured over and dissected by the press and the opposition (who will of course, offer up their own slightly different variations of the same percentages to appease our perceived desire for democratic choice).

It will be much of the same I reckon. The BOE ‘base rate’ will remain unchanged at 0.5% – but it will be increasingly hinted at that this might rise as the economy ‘recovers’ and unemployment ‘falls’. It is so very hard to talk about business and politics in this world without the use of inverted commas to represent the fact that nearly everything they talk about is ‘bullshit’. In fact, I predict that inverted commas are going to be so popular in 2014 that they will be privatised by the ‘government’.

 

Prediction 8: Politics – Early General Election.

This is a biggie. I’ve said it before somewhere last year, but in a nutshell, these things will happen:

  1. Some issue will arise that divides the coalition on how to respond. At a guess, I reckon something to do with tax breaks or welfare proposed by the Tories.
  2. All of a sudden, the Liberal Democrat membership will be up in arms about supporting this new policy – even though they’ve happily propped up the Conservatives for the last three years.
  3. This will provoke a leadership challenge within the Lib Dems as Nick Clegg fails to convince his party that supporting the new tax/benefit measures is a good idea (he will stake his career on it – well, I suppose it’s best not to gamble with anything valuable).
  4. A new leader will arise who has a track record of being an outspoken critic of the Tories, even though they too have spent the last three years propping them up (my money’s on Vince Cable).
  5. This division will split the party, make the coalition untenable, and force a general election in which the Lib Dems will have the opportunity to rebrand themselves away from the Clegg/Tory era, and have at least a slim chance of not committing self-political genocide.

This may happen in early 2015, with the signs of it in late 2014. My reasoning for this is I just can’t believe that the Liberal Democrat membership, financial backers and ‘old guard’ are going to let Clegg take them into an election next year as one half of an unpopular coalition having broken so many promises. They must know what is coming to them in 2015 if they do: obliteration. Unfortunately, out of the two parties in power, we weren’t surprised when the Tories started acting like Tories because that’s what they are. The Lib Dems, however, have actually let people down. If you vote Tory and believe in their philosophy, you are getting what you asked for (more’s the pity for you). If you voted Liberal Democrat, you are not.

But fear not! If they simply follow the above plan, they can direct all the scorn and mistrust into Nick Clegg, boot him out and pretend to be a changed party. It’s either that or have Clegg, possibly one of the most unpopular politicians in history, try and convince us that we should trust him and that ‘he really means it this time’ when it comes to his pledges and abilities to temper the top down policies of the Tories. Nah. It will be a managed move. At the very least, Clegg will not be taking the Lib Dems into the next election, whether this happens in 2014 or 2015.

Oh and Labour will just watch it all unfold and get some column inches making jeering comments about the whole debacle while failing to realise that no one likes them either.

 

Prediction 9: Welfare – Something will happen to the Nationwide Building Society

Now remember these are predictions okay?! I don’t want to do a ‘Robert Peston’ and potentially cause the thing I’m providing discourse on (not that that’s very likely unless unbeknownst to me this blog is read by leading influential investors and hedge fund managers). But, they are the only sector of the financial industry left not to have been embroiled in some major scandal, and given the fake-inflation of house prices due to the dubious government loan policies – maybe they are next? After all, they are the UKs biggest Building Society and the general ‘go to’ company for mortgage and housing data. The second largest used to be Britannia, but they got merged into the nation’s only cooperative, and look what happened there… So, even though I have no cause, reason or evidence to suggest this, there may be an outside chance it will happen so I’m saying it anyway.

Prediction 10: Scotland referendum – Bye, bye Scotland.

It’s a damning indictment of Westminster that this referendum is even happening. It is happening for a reason. I can only imagine what it would mean to me if I was ‘attached’ to this government with an option of leaving it all together in these times. Maybe I am in the minority and the waffle about security, monetary union and EU membership will be enough to convince people that they aren’t good enough to ‘go it alone’, but I hope not: because change is a good thing. Not this fake, incremental creep of percentages this way or that, but real, tangible change is a rare opportunity and I hope that they grasp the thistle with both hands and show us all that there is more to life than the whims and needs of the City of London and demonstrate (in time, and no doubt with some difficulty) that alternatives do exist.

And there we go, my predictions for the new year. I’m sure I could have made a list of hundreds but I have neither the time, patience or attention span to do so. I will refer back to this list should anything happen, and I will review this in early 2015 when I make next year’s predictions (presuming of course that by that time I’m not an international best-selling author who has teams of people to write his blog and manage his social networks on his behalf – did I mention I’m releasing a book shortly called ‘The Dimension Scales’ featuring 14 short stories based around themes of malevolent and secret authorities, metamorphosis, survival and projections of contemporary fears into near-future realities?).

Have a great new year everyone.

Garry

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Give them Flowers – Coop update

Regular readers may have noticed that, given the recent furore involving the Cooperative and my previous blogs about them, I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to write something new about the whole sorry affair. Well, if you have noticed that, then this is it.

As you may know by now, over the years I have developed a cautious (some may say cynical) mistrust of the flow of information as it is presented to us by the usual conduits. So when a story that has been simmering away for years suddenly breaks open thanks to a catalytic event like a drug-snorting, rent-boy loving Minister with no banking experience or apparently, any fear of discovery, I take a step back and just think, hmm, (affecting a cockney accents) “waz all this abaat then?”.

I don’t want to speculate about Paul Flowers drug habits, it seems quite obvious from the material released by the Daily Mail that he is a frequent and experienced lifestyle drug user. The more interesting questions I think, are, why now? What purpose does this serve (if any)? And how does this relate to the wider issues?

If the narrative of the media is to be believed, here is a man who has blazed a trail of incompetence and hedonism throughout his career in various guises, as a bank chairman, a Methodist minister, a Labour councillor and as a representative in various charities over several years. The floodgates have opened, it’s all coming out now, as if a thousand whistle-blowers have only just learned how to blow.

So what does this mean, given that it took the moral outrage of a man he met on a dating site, who attended drug parties with him and decided to secretly film him out of disgust with his hypocrisy, for this all to come to light? We could believe that large sections of the banking, political, religious and  even charity fraternities were all so naive and trusting as to not have noticed his behaviour over the years. As if this was a surprise and shock to them all – but that can’t be true, can it? Not given the deluge of past indiscretions that have now surfaced. So scrap that. But what’s the alternative? That at least some of these people did know about his lifestyle choices and inadequate faculties for the positions of power he held?

That latter option, which seems logical, is far more intriguing and worrying. What if, for example, key figures were acutely aware of his character, and used that to their advantage? It may sound far-fetched to you, but is it as far-fetched as a man who managed to avoid other major scandals from surfacing throughout his career, suddenly being caught out by a bloke with an iphone? If so, this incompetent buffoon (Flowers I mean), was up until that point, a master of deception and discretion, which doesn’t fit the narrative we are being given.

The obvious reason for having a fall guy like him at the top of a politically aligned bank, is that if it all goes wrong, you can just point the finger and say “he did it”. Which, given the ongoing inquiries into the Coop/Lloyds fiasco and the Coop’s own legacy funding problems, seems like a good time to do it, don’t you think? “Oh,” we collectively sigh, “it’s because they were being run by a druggy rent boy using idiot… that explains it then.”

But it really doesn’t, does it? And I know that the parties have all started slinging mud around as to who knew him, and how much they knew him and so forth, but despite that, the more important questions will now sit behind a sleazy, tabloid image of Paul Flowers in a car park buying crack, and jokes about crystal Methodists.

There are still some massively important questions to be asked about the whole affair, the majority of which sat not just with this one chairman, but with the various executive management teams, the interested political parties and the limp regulators. For the sake of posterity, I will record them here:

1.            The Buterfill Act.

When the Coop and Britannia announced the ‘merger’ of two profitable companies that had complementary synergies and would form a ‘super-mutual’ alternative to the big high street banks (that had been oh-so damaged by the global crash) – there was just one problem – just a little problem, nothing major really – THE LAW.

It was currently not possible for a bank to merge with a mutual, and as the Coop is basically a bank (with the only shareholder being the customer base) an act of parliament had to be drafted and passed before the house in order to allow this transaction to take place. The act was sponsored by Conservative peer, Sir John Buterfill, and passed, after it was announced the two businesses would merge.

At the time, Paul Flowers was still chairman of the Coop (a Labour councillor remember) while a Tory peer sponsored the act to allow a Labour (and Lib Dem) supporting bank to merge with a Building Society. It is hard to believe that this act did not attract the most careful scrutiny at the time, given the various interested parties and specific nature of its creation.

The customers and staff were told that both businesses were viable, profitable, and mostly unscathed by the credit crunch. They were told this was a merger, yet, even though the law of the land had to change, and massive regulator involvement was needed, this turned out not to be the case.

On a separate note, I was told directly (at a later date) that this was not the case. Britannia was in trouble, and without the take-over, sorry, I mean, merger, it would have gone down the pan. Which leads me to:

2.            The Britannia Members Vote to merge.

Given the above, and what has transpired, I would suggest that the entire member base of Britannia was deceived into voting for the merger to take place. The member vote was constitutionally necessary, and a bright rosy picture of synergies and super mutual’s was painted. If this turns out not to be the case – who is responsible, and what recompense or punishment is due? Given that we now know there was a bad loan book (all be it, not as bad as it is being represented by the Coop in recent inquiries) – this seems to be highly likely.

3.            The write-down of IT.

I worked for the Coop during the ill-fated IT upgrade that eventually cost them around £148 million according to their own accounting, which as we have seen, is probably not to be trusted. I would wonder if perhaps (again as was hinted to me directly) – a little creative accounting reduced this number down from a much more substantial figure. How was this figure arrived upon? A close look at the balance sheet may be a good idea. I worked on this project (all be it in a junior capacity) and the figures that were being quoted throughout the three years it was ongoing, were higher than this, much, much higher than this. Senior figures were popping off left right and centre when it became clear the IT upgrade was not happening, and apparently the Coop had been at it for many years before the Britannia merger, and still to no avail.

This may seem a smaller point that the others, but this is customers money they were spending, and the big accounting firms, the IT company itself and many third party contractors, all got their slice and left the company with virtually nothing to show for it. (not to mention the executive wages and pay-offs throughout).

So, I think that will do for now. There are obviously dozens more questions to be answered, many of which being heard by the select committee at the moment, but given the close political links to this affair, are they really best suited to be investigating this?

I would hate to see the media narrative use the whole sorry Flowers affair to divert attention from these issues. Let’s not forget that the culmination of all these failings is that both the UKs second biggest mutual (the Britannia) and biggest member owned cooperative are looking likely to end up mostly owned by American hedge funds as a result of all this, or in need of a bail out etc… So the ‘survivors’ of the Global Crash have finally caught up with the rest of the financial industry, it just took some twists and turns to get there.

Let us also not forget, that we still have not seen senior figures of financial institutions, political parties, regulators or big accounting firms go to prison or face any meaningful punishment for what they did to us all, quite the opposite in fact, they were handed their lifestyle back on a plate, and we were told to swallow austerity as a consequence.

So, they can give us Flowers, but it’s not enough.