Not long after you read these immemorial words - on the fifth of November, to be precise - the night skies over Britain will once again be lit with fireworks and the cries of a happy populace will ring out. Yes, it is a year to the night since the late Captain Maxwell discovered that he could not, as he apparently believed, walk on water. And how will the City be celebrating this event?
Well, in all probability it will do so by singing the time-honoured EC4 anthem, A Self-Regulating We Will Go. ("The dealer takes his cut, the dealer takes his cut, Hi-ho the merry-oh" etc). The lyric has been updated for the occasion - the latest refrain is "something must be done so that it can never happen again" - but the (unvoiced) chorus "As long as it doesn't stop me making money" will be familiar enough. The boys in grey have also spent the year since the great mariner turned submariner polishing up an anniversary burlesque called A Licence To Steal, a sneak preview of which Toady is here privileged to present to his devoted readers.
Act I: Somewhere in the Houses of Parliament. Enter the Commons Social Security Committee, reasoning politely that auditors should police companies for fraud. Auditors complain loudly and refuse, claiming that life these days is hard enough. Curtain. Act II: A room overlooking Whitehall. Sir David Walker, ex-chairman of the Securities and Investments Board (SIB), suggests a joint Fraud Office/DTI/SIB "intelligence clearing house". City regulators, throwing up their hands, sing the sonorous "We won't join" chorus, and Sir David exits, weeping. Curtain. Act III: A boardroom somewhere in EC4. Tory MP Richard Page proposes a compensation scheme for pensioners be included in a new Pensions Act. Fund managers and company treasurers grumble, and a decision is made to put off making a decision until next summer. Curtain. Act IV: A sylvan glade somewhere in a Vienna wood. A pas de deux, featuring a pair of proposals from the Cadbury report: the first, that companies be forced to explain themselves if they fail to follow a proposed code of conduct; the second that non-executive directors be given the additional statutory duty of monitoring executives. Enter the CBI and IoD, shaking their heads and tutting in chorus. Curtain. Act V: Atop a well-known City skyscraper, not very far from Broadgate. Her Majesty's Government sings of the desirability of the marriage between two of her friends, Dona Fimbra (overseer of financial advisors) and Don Lautro (watchdog of insurers and unit trusts). Banks and building societies drown out the song by stamping their feet in rage. The Chancellor stands in the wings, saying nothing, in which silent chorus he is joined by the Treasury and Bank of England. Act VI: A Treasury bunker. The Chancellor, now muttering imprecations about the Bundesbank in German, sings an aria suggesting that the role of the SIB and its sub-regulators needs reviewing. His choice of reviewing body for the SIB? The SIB. Howls of laughter from an assembled dramatis personae of pension fund managers, bond dealers, money brokers, newspaper proprietors, etc,who celebrate by jumping up and down on a group of dazed pensioners. Exeunt omnes, in Porsches. Distant, Czechoslovakian laughter echoes from the wings. Finis.
Michael butts in - again.
Yea, verily, sayeth the Toady: a prophet is not without honour, save in his own land (Matthew, 13:57). Or perhaps that should read "profit". Once upon a time, the sadly named Michael Butt (what a time he must have had at prep school) was CE of Eagle Star and tipped as successor to BAT Industries' Sir Patrick Sheehy. Then came the recession: Eagle Star lost £189 million in the first half of 1991, and Butt was out on his ... but no, no, really I mustn't. Since then, Butt has spent his time patiently predicting a big shakedown in the European insurance industry at Phoenix Securities. Have people listened? Well, yes: but they have been French and American people. Unlike at BAT, Butt was asked to keep his seat on the board of the French Marceau Investissements. Then, last month, he was asked to join the board of a new US $300 million re-insurance outfit called Mid-Ocean, based in Bermuda. "The time to go in is when things are bad," reasons Butt. Is anyone out there listening?