Magazine article The Spectator

We Should Lay Wreaths and Pour Libations on the Tomb of the Unknown Shareholder

Magazine article The Spectator

We Should Lay Wreaths and Pour Libations on the Tomb of the Unknown Shareholder

Article excerpt

Armistice Day comes at last to Marconi, where the shareholders have, in effect, been wiped out. All that remains is to honour their sacrifice, and I have a proposal to make. When the Stock Exchange moves to St Paul's and its dreary tower is pulled down, the site should be dedicated as the Tomb of the Unknown Shareholder. At this time of year City grandees would lay wreaths on it and pour libations. It will serve as a reminder of what shareholders are for. The Equitable Life used to advertise that it had belonged to its policyholders, so all of its profits went straight to them. All of the losses too, as they found out. The John Lewis Partnership belongs to all those nice people in lampshades and haberdashery, and has a L200 million hole in its pension fund. In the absence of shareholders, only the partners can fill it. This is like trying to fight a war without infantry. At Marconi and at Energis, the creditors are being remustered and sent up into the line. Cookson and Royal & Sun Alliance must rely on volunteers. In this kind of warfare the chateau generals so often persuade themselves that one more push will suffice. Guess who does the pushing. Mocked in time of peace and prosperity as greedy, myopic and lacking the courage of others' convictions, shareholders are sent over the top once again:

Oh, it's Tommy this, and Tommy that, and Tommy, go away, But it's 'Thank you, Mr Atkins' when the band begins to play.

As Sir John Keegan has taught us, armies which sustain 100 per cent casualties start to think twice about going on fighting.

Gold warrior

THE gold war, by contrast, has been going well: how well, you can see by reading the stock market's maps upside-down. They then show how many shares you can buy for an ounce of gold. A century ago your ounce would have bought you a cross-section of the Dow Jones index. The price climbed (in the 1920s) to 18 ounces, collapsed (in the Great Crash) to two ounces, climbed again to 20 ounces but fell (in the bear market of the 1970s) all the way back to one ounce. In the roaring 1990s it reached an all-time peak of 45 ounces, is now down to 29 ounces and on all past form must have further to go. This campaign has been briskly fought by Haruko Fukuda, who took command at the World

Gold Council just when Gordon Brown was selling off half our reserves on the worst terms available for twenty years, and all was gloom. Now she thinks it is time for her to go plural, and sensible boards will be snapping her services up. Within the Council there have been ructions - the chairman resigned on the eve of the annual meeting - and the new plan seems to be to move further away from the customers. This does not sound like good marketing strategy, and her successor, even though he comes from California, could scarcely wear the product as effectively as she does.

Sit. still vac.

I DON'T suppose that Haruko Fukuda could be persuaded to join the Bank of England as Deputy Governess, but there will be a vacancy on Monday. The Queen makes this appointment on the advice of the Prime Minister, who would no doubt seek (or at least get) advice from the Chancellor, but as I was saying last week, they have been taking their time and have not been knocked down in the rush to apply. …

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