Scam

Far from indulging in a post-mortem on the Budget, which he reckons will not affect him in the least, the chairman is mainly worried about where the next glass of champagne is coming from.

“Isn’t it great they’ve finally managed to get rid of all the riffraff from St Paul’s?” observed the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management, perhaps a little unkindly, as we walked up the steps of the cathedral for the party to celebrate the official conjoining of Morningstar Slash OBSR.

“That rather depends on what you mean by ’riffraff’,” I replied, looking around the cathedral’s crypt, which was jam-packed with what, if it is not too great a contradiction in terms, we might hail as the great and the good of the wonderful world of investment. “Still, to be fair, at least most of us look as if we are willing to occupy the area well beyond seven o’clock at night.”

“Exactly,” nodded the chairman. “Tenacity and endurance – particularly when there is free alcohol around – are one of the things that make our industry what it is. Or should that be two things? Anyway, presumably we are going to be discussing little George’s Budget speech earlier this afternoon?”

“Oh, I really do hope not,” I grimaced. “Look around this room – I guarantee the only Budget-related conversation going on will be among the admittedly quite prodigious number of smokers about the extra duty on a packet of cigarettes. Aside from that, nobody seems to care, and I think that’s only partly down to the fact most of the measures were so extensively leaked that the actual speech felt more like déjà vu. (Scam continues below)

“My sense is most people here already know what I am ashamed to admit I have only just realised – that, in the greater scheme of things, Budgets affect little and mean less. And really, why would we expect otherwise? It’s not as if there is some giant sofa in the Treasury, down the back of which the chancellor can just happen to find a couple of billion in spare change.

“Any eye-catching initiative – and this goes doubly for these straitened times – has to be paid for from the same pot of cash as everything else, which means it’s all just tinkering around the edges of a zero sum game. In the end, as far as I can make out, the Budget has merely become an annual excuse for a nationwide orgy of whingeing.

”Do I really look like the sort of person who pays income tax at any percentage?”

“A load of special-interest groups – egged on by m’learned friends in the media because space doesn’t fill itself, you know – moan in the weeks running up to the Budget and then a load of special-interest groups, some the same as the first lot, some different, moan in the weeks that follow. At some point, that moaning stops, just in time for the next pre-Budget round to begin.

“In fact, the only sense we are really all in this together is that we know we are technically all in this together but would just rather that ’we’ did not include ’us’. Don’t you agree?”

“I’m so sorry – I wasn’t listening,” replied the chairman. “I’ve been trying to catch the eye of that young waiter with the impossible voluminous quiff. I don’t think anyone has told him he needs to distribute that champagne rather than merely carry it.”

“Oh, well, yes,” I huffed. “I suppose you can afford to be blasé about the subject because you benefit from the higher rate of income tax coming down to 45%.”

“Come on now,” smiled the chairman. “Do I really look like the sort of person who pays income tax at any percentage? No, as you alluded earlier, the reason I can afford to be blasé about this and any other Budget in my lifetime is I know that, in the final analysis, any good or bad news therein can be made irrelevant in an instant by a positive or negative event or piece of data emanating from America or China or the eurozone or wherever.

“When I brought up the Budget earlier, I was only being helpful but now, seeing as that young chap seems to have no intention of sharing his bottle of fizz, my sole intention is to head over to that bar and occupy it late into the night. And, believe me, any police operation to have me removed is unlikely to end peacefully.”