The Coalition – there’s a narrative, but the right doesn’t like it. Time for Lib Dems to make the case.

Since the budget in March, the British Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition government has been having a rough ride in the media.  This is showing up in its poll ratings, with Labour romping ahead.  Mostly this is Westminster bubble nonsense, but Liberal Democrats, in particular, need to ponder what is happening – and do more to lift the government’s PR performance.

The list of issues that the government is said to have handled badly grows.  It started with taxing pensioners, takeaway food, and charitable donations, which arose from the Budget.  This week the issues have been queues at Immigration at airports, poor GDP figures for the British economy, and revelations that the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was a bit to close to Rupert Murdoch’s News International media group.

Mostly these are either non-stories stoked up by the opposition, or quite sensible policy decisions that are attracting opposition from vested interests.  The Jeremy Hunt problem is the only one that looks a bit more serious, but it is part of a much more complex story that sits rather outside the government’s main purpose.  The GDP figures do relate to an important issue, the economy, but were of little significance in their own right, and told us nothing that was actually new.

So why can’t the Government get on the front foot and just swat this stuff away?  There is some nostalgia for “big hitter” government spokesmen that previous governments have been able to trot out to do just that: Labour’s John Reid, or the Conservatives’ Ken Clarke (in another era – he’s older and off-message now).  There was a rather interesting discussion on BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning on this, featuring Mr Reid and Norman Tebbit, who has also performed such a role.  These spokesmen blamed the government’s lack of narrative.  Lord Tebbit scoffed at Lords Reform and gay marriage as ideas too small to make a compelling story.  Both added that the fact that the government is a coalition made this very difficult.  These creatures of the old politics would say that of course, but it’s worth trying to tackle the argument rather than the man on this one.

First there’s the rather complacent point that all governments suffer from mid-term blues, and can get bogged with apparently trivial news issues at round about this time.  It’s not clear that the big hitters helped much this.  Things get better in the natural cycle.

Secondly the lack of a clear narrative is hardly new either.  Mrs Thatcher was clear enough – though that did not stop very poor mid-term poll ratings.  And as for John Major, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown – none of these governments had a clear mission, beyond being competent managers.  Mr Major was lampooned for his “cones hotline” as being his biggest idea – beside which gay marriage and House of Lords are clearly a big deal.  But Mr Blair’s main thrust in the 1990s boiled down to “the same, only different”.  He was elected in 1997 with a huge majority and little mandate beyond introducing devolution in Scotland and Wales, ideas that were evidently forced on him from outside.  Mr Brown’s lack of clear narrative is the stuff of legend.  This is what modern managerial politics has become.

But actually there IS a perfectly good narrative, if only you look for it.  First is the economy: Labour left a horrible mess, which went beyond trashed government finances to a highly unbalanced economy.  The Labour economy was built on massively unsustainable levels of government expenditure, both for services and benefits.  Painful though this is, they have to be cut back, and there’s never a good time to do that.  But it wasn’t just the government being too big, there were too many of the wrong sorts of services, and not enough things we can export.  All this means that you can’t just stimulate the economy back to growth – because as soon as the stimulus ends the economy sinks back to where it was before, with even more debt.  This is a long haul – let’s be thankful that unemployment is at lower levels than in earlier recessions.  What is really needed to get us moving is more investment by business – but that’s difficult in the current world climate.  Now just what is it in the message “this is a long haul” that do you not understand when carping about 0.2% in GDP figures that are going to be revised in a month or so’s time?

But the narrative has to go further – Lord Tebbit conceded that there was a reasonably clear narrative on the economy.  And this is the Big Society/Localism/Community Politics agenda.  We need to make central government smaller so that people can be empowered locally to change things to the way they want them.  That means reforming the whole shape of government – including the NHS.  We’ve been so addicted to the old centralist ways that it is bound to take time for these things to work themselves out and there will a lot of protest on the way.  And finally we need to clean up politics.  This involves tightening up the electoral system (equal constituencies) and reducing the number of MPs.  It means tackling that out of control and ineffective patronage factory called the House of Lords.  Of course people are squealing.  There are no omelettes without broken eggs.

I could go on to bring in Europe (not the time for radical changes in the UK relationship with the economy so delicate), and immigration (this is something most of the electorate agreed on at the last election and the Lib Dems promised to grit their teeth).  This narrative is surely no worse that Tony Blair’s government that got re-elected twice.

The first problem is that the government is not clearly articulating this narrative.  They are doing quite well on the economy, though could do better.  But not the bigger picture.  The problem is lack of narrative itself, it is that the Tory right, and their friends in the press, don’t like it.

Of course there are tensions in the government – between parties and within them. But that’s not new. Mrs Thatcher had her “wets” on the Tory left.  Mr Blair had both the Labour left, who felt utterly betrayed, and the brooding presence of Mr Brown to deal with.

There’s no excuse for the government not to be trying harder to present a more coherent case for what it is doing.  The Prime Minister David cameron should be leading from the front here, but seems strangely absent.  But I think the Liberal Democrats should be doing more too.

For the Lib Dems the position is rather intriguing.  The party took a huge hit in the Coalition’s first year, while the Tory standing increased, if anything.  Now it is the Tories that are taking the main pounding.  But there is little comfort for the Lib Dems here.  They may not be heading for the opt-predicted wipe-out.  But for them to advance beyond their current reduced poll ratings, the Government as a whole has to be seen to do better.  And if the party fails to advance from its current standing, it will not play a major part in the next government, even if there is a hung parliament.  The first lesson for the Lib Dems from the Coalition was to show differentiation.  Now they must understand that it has limits.


The House of Lords is broken – now’s a good time to fix it

The denial stage is over.  Opponents of Lords reform have woken up to the Government’s plans and are mobilising.  But the reform plan is far from dead.

What’s the problem with the House of Lords?  It chalks up the odd success in challenging and revising legislation, without challenging the democratic credentials of the Commons.  But that doesn’t mean “It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it” – the argument used against regulating the banks more tightly before the financial crisis.  The fact is that the Lords is not up to its job and things are getting worse.

Appointment to the House of Lords is one way traffic.  Once appointed, almost nothing short of death deprives you of the right to take part in the legislative process.  This gives rise to two practical problems, never mind democratic legitimacy: size and accountability.  There is no one-in-one out rule for the Lords.  Political leaders regularly appoint new members to maintain political balance and to make sure that there are enough peers young and enthusiastic enough to do the hard graft – not forgetting the need to offer consolation prizes to victims of the political process.  There are now over 800 – compared to the Commons which has 650, with a plan to reduce it to 500.  This is a bit of a joke.

But this is less of problem than it might be because of the second issue: there is no accountability for what peers get up to after they are appointed.  That means that most of them don’t do much at all.  Many just turn up on the big occasions, make a speech, vote, and then clear off thinking that they have added to value to the legislative process.  But the Lords’s key work is detailed revision – this is the bit people say works.  Legislation that leaves the Commons often lacks detail or hasn’t been thought through.  This revision doesn’t happen in set piece debates.  It happens in and around committees, and requires a serious commitment of time – you need to get into the details, take evidence, and so on.  That the Lords does this as much as it does is one of the wonders of the British system, but only a tiny minority of peers actually get involved in this grind, and they are self-appointed, and get little logistical support.  It is distinctly ad-hoc and amateur.  This creates a lot of charm, that seems to bewitch many of those that come into contact with it But it really isn’t up to the job in the increasingly complex world of legislation.  And its failures are largely invisible.  Poorly thought through legislation happens all the time – the last government had to introduce a new act on criminal justice almost every year, since they kept failing to nail the problems – but we blame ministers and the Commons for this, not a House of Lords that was out to lunch.

So the Lords (or whatever else we might call a revising chamber) needs to be more accountable and more professional.  That means appointing professionals to it with some process of reporting back to those that appoint them, and for limited terms.  That has to mean elections of some kind.  This is what the Government’s reform is trying to do.

And that is all it is trying to do.  Many of us would like a new constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, based on a constitutional convention.  The primary purpose of such a convention would be to resolve the status of the country’s constituent parts, in the face of demands from many Scots for independence.  A reformed upper chamber could play a role in any such settlement.  But we aren’t going to get a convention, because our political class doesn’t see the need, and the public at large seems indifferent – in England especially.  Meanwhile the Lords bumbles on in its current form.

Will the proposed reform do the job?  I don’t know.  It’s a messy compromise because the government needs to build consensus.  The important issue is to break through the untouchability of the Lords’s status, and bulldoze aside the biggest roadblock to change, which is the unelected Lords themselves.  We can amend later the bits that don’t work as well as they should.

And now is a good time to take the issue on.  The Government has passed most the new legislation it wanted to; it has three relatively uncluttered years to push things through.  Of course the economy is in a mess, but, God help us, we don’t need our parliament to pass lots more laws to help us out.  The economy is a matter for the executive, not the legislature.

Will it work?  It stands a better chance than changing the voting system.  Then the forces of darkness (by which I mean the conservative press and political donors) mobilised against the AV reform, making supporters look weak.  The Conservative Party was united against it.  This reform has the Prime Minister on board.  The forces of darkness have not yet mobilised one way or the other, and may be persuaded to stay quiet, given that upping the temperature could really hurt the Tory party.

But the reform’s supporters may well need to concede a referendum in order to get it through parliament, whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue.  The opinion polls suggest that such a referendum would be won comfortably – but they are near meaningless.  But if the press barons are silent, and a reasonably strong coalition supports them, with important figures from across the political spectrum and and outside it,  then it’s winnable. There’s all to play for.

When is evangelism intolerance? A dilemma for some Christians

I have a great deal of sympathy with the article by Deborah Orr in the weekend’s Guardian: Whether you are religious or secular imposing your views on others is foolish.  Ms Orr complains about strident campaigning from Christians against abortion and gay rights, as well as secularists complaining about the mention of God in the Boy Scouts’ oath.  I disapprove of these strident attitudes too, and it doesn’t make me feel better about those who advance them.  But I fear the distinction between free speech and imposing views isn’t as sharp as she implies.

Ms Orr praises the “live and let live” Christians she knows, who don’t seek to impose their views on others.  This sounds perilously close to not wishing to convert others to their faith.   I don’t think that is necessarily wrong, but many Christians feel that it is their duty to spread the faith – to evangelise.  Now I have enough of a Christian education to enjoy picking holes in what many practising Christians say, in spite of my having lapsed from the faith.  But in this case I find the duty to evangelise a difficult idea to challenge – it’s solidly grounded in scripture both in  letter and spirit (unlike, I would argue, many Christians’ views on gays, and, indeed, abortion).  The Christian and Islamic faiths differ from others, like Judaism and Hinduism, in this.  You are not meant to keep your light under bushel.

So I quite understand the Christian need to proselytise – and probably that is what many Christians think they are doing when advancing their views militantly on gay rights and abortion.  It mystifies me why so many Christians think these things are so central to their faith – but clearly many do.  Ms Orr, of course, is quite happy about the idea of free speech.  she is happy enough for Christians to publicise their views, provided they show equivalent tolerance when people who disagree with them publicise theirs.  She is objecting to two things.  First the idea that conflicting views should be suppressed because they are insulting to those of faith – part of a process of secular persecution.  I have almost no sympathy for Christians (or Muslims) on that score – surely the duty to bear insults with good grace is the flipside of the duty to evangelise?  But she also objects to attempts to “impose” their views on others, by, for example, Christian registrars refusing to conduct civil partnerships between gays – or the Christian landlord refusing to accommodate a gay couple in a bed and breakfast.  Also, of course, the use of violence to stop people using abortion services – and the attempt to advertise “gay cures” on London’s buses.

Ms Orr doesn’t talk about Christian surgeons refusing to conduct abortions – but isn’t that similar?  I don’t think many people would object to that, though this clearly creates problems and may restrict freedom of choice.  This at least shows that there is some grey amid the black and white.

But, to be fair, Ms Orr uses the word “foolish” rather than “wrong” to describe this behaviour – and this is much nearer to the mark.  This behaviour seems to be much more about a rather modern habit of wallowing in victimhood to attract attention from others.  Christians should have the teaching and spiritual resources to rise above that kind of behaviour, even if atheists do not.  Many do of course, so it is does the churches no good when leading figures like George Carey and Cardinal O’Brien pander to the victim culture rather than showing spiritual leadership.


The death of a snack bar.

Last Monday evening as I was walking to the Tube I saw a bit of a commotion on nearby Clapham Common.  There was smoke and there was a fire engine.  A closer look revealed that the smoke was coming from the mobile snack bar on Windmill Drive.  As I cycled past it on the following morning, it was just a tangled mess.  By yesterday it had gone completely.

This snack bar was something of a local institution.  There would usually be a knot of people chatting nearby, with an assortment of vans, lorries, police cars and the occasional ambulance parked nearby.  The people were almost all white and working class (by which I mean the real thing, and not simple “white and poor” as some rather annoying bureaucrats have taken to using the expression) and male, the occasional police woman excepted.  It was a favourite spot when such workers had a few minutes to kill.

And it did nothing to challenge prejudices about white working class people.  Its fare was greasy.  I don’t know what its coffee was like, but I saw no espresso machine as I walked by.  It all looked pretty disgusting.  Which makes it very easy for nice middle class people like me to sneer at it.  But working class people are a beleaguered bunch, looked down on by so many – I don’t begrudge them their moment of relaxation.  Besides my relationship with disgusting food is not entirely innocent – though I find it hard to forgive disgusting coffee.

But the fare clearly wasn’t healthy, and unhealthy eating is one of the things that causes policy types angst – as demonstrated by a series of seminars Food can be the best medicine held by the Reform think tank – trying to emphasize the positive potential of diet, as well as decrying the effect of poor choices.  This, along with harangues on the subject of smoking and drinking, is one of the forces which is laying siege to the working classes.  In doing so, it raises some challenges to modern liberal thinking.

On the one hand liberals like to emphasise choice, freedom and empowerment – traditionally as values in their own right, more recently based on evidence that these things are key to overall wellbeing.  On the other hand there is a focus on outcomes and the use of evidence based policy formulations, which tend to prescribe the same solution for everybody.  If we make people free, they will choose different things.  A lot of these choices will be for things we consider to be inadvisable.  And it will often be that different groups of people will tend to make different choices some being less to our taste than others.  But we have to accept that people are by and large responsible for the consequences of their bad choices – and not governments or wicked multinationals or anybody else.  It’s an awkward fact that most people who make unhealthy choices are perfectly well informed about the consequences – studies have shown this for smoking.

The NHS gives some a particularly pernicious line of reasoning.  It’s that since the NHS is funded by taxpayers in general, it gives the public the right to force people to make better choices (or at least to bully people) so as to reduce NHS costs.  But the unhealthy pay their taxes too – and if they drink and smoke, they pay a pretty decent whack too (tobacco tax revenues easily pay for the additional NHS costs associated with smoking, for example).  Perhaps hot pasties and sausage rolls should not be exempt from VAT, but when all’s said and done I think we tax unhealthy lifestyles enough.

We (by which I mean the policymaking middle class elite) should just lighten up.  Who knows, if we respected the choices people make with better grace, it might just help people to gain that extra confidence to take control of their lives and make better choices.

So I hope that unhealthy snack bar on Windmill Drive returns, as it has after a previous fire.


Can our bankers learn from the charities?

My applause for last month’s Budget on this blog looks more out of touch by the day.  The Budget has led to a string of PR difficulties, for which the government seemed ill-prepared.  First it was the age-related allowances, then hot takeaway food, and now it is charitable giving.  Perhaps the back-and-forth of coalition deal making leaves the PR behind.   But what the last week shows above all is just how skilled the charitable sector is at public relations and lobbying.  There is quite a bit of fuss about corporate lobbying in politics, but businesses look flat-footed by comparison.

The wave of protest from charities over the government’s proposed minimum tax on income is building into an overwhelming tsunami.  How have they achieved this, over a relatively obscure rule that affects only a few people?

Inevitably, truth is one of the first casualties in a battle like this.  It’s not that anybody is putting out lies, it’s that a concentrated smokescreen has been built up, so that few people have any idea what is really going on.  There are a couple of fine examples from last week’s radio coverage on the BBC.  One was a survey conducted by one of the lobbyists of charity chief executives asking them whether their charity might be seriously affected.  This was a bit like asking them “Do you want tax relief on charity giving to be restricted?” – not surprisingly nearly 90% said that they were.  This 90% figure quickly did the rounds to give the impression that 90% of charities would be in serious trouble.  In another case one senior person from one of the lobbies was asked how much charities would lose; she replied correctly that this was very difficult to estimate, and then proceeded to give a rather large and rather precise estimate – which quickly got quoted all over the place.  Very quickly the impression has been raised that charities’ income is going to be affected drastically, with the result that all sorts help to the poor and needy was going to get cut back.  Since then a steady stream of charity, arts and university types have piped in to add to the overall impression of impending disaster.

Meanwhile the government response has been a bit weak.  Some Customs and Revenue types were allowed to air their prejudice that most charities were tax dodges – but this idea was no more based on substance than the charities’ claims, and didn’t really help.

And as for the truth, I await some rather calmer analysis from the rather limited number of purveyors of calm, like The Economist.  For now what interests me is the pattern of the PR effort.  The basic idea is common enough from ordinary business PR.  A new regulation or tax is proposed that might force your business to change the way it does things.  So you scream murder and claim that the change will bring an end life as we know it.  Sometimes these claims may be grounded, but most often they are not; the thing is not to think about it too hard.  Anti-pollution regulations offer an instructive example: these are usually opposed vehemently by the industries that they affect; and yet the air and water  gets cleaner while the economy continues to prosper (the most widely quoted example of egregious protest was against sulphur dioxide pollution, in the 1980s, I think).  The general idea is that policy is developed through an adversarial process, like the British legal system.  Make your case as effectively as possible: the truth is somebody else’s concern.

How have the charities been so effective?  First of all they succeed in creating the impression that what they do is for the benefit of poor and needy, both here and abroad. The huge amount of marketing expenditure by big charities like Oxfam and Cancer Research, plus all those public sponsorship campaigns involving celebrities (like the recent Sports aid) help here.  Of course the picture is more complex than this: a lot of charities are about providing elitist education and entertainment (i.e. art) and some are downright nefarious extensions of rich egos.

Given this complex picture, the key thing is to keep solid and keep the message simple.  The supporters of poverty charities have not fallen into the trap of criticising their elitist fellow travellers – as this would fatally complicate the message, as well as opening a can of worms.  A second important point is timing.  The charities waited for the fuss over age-related allowances and Cornish pasties to calm down, before launching an onslaught.  And that onslaught looked well coordinated.  Whether or not their was much coordination I don’t know – but all that’s really necessary is to play follow-my-leader, which needs very little pre-planning.

Positive image for a few key leaders and low profile from the rest; simple oppositional messages; solidarity.  Can that PR disaster that is the British banking industry learn from this?  Banking, after all, has done more to alleviate human poverty than the charities ever will, through easing the path of trade and investment, the two real enemies of poverty.

I don’t think so either.  They don’t care enough about their image, and are too rivalrous to do the solidarity bit properly. Better stick to their usual strategy: passive resistance – the slow, patient picking apart and undermining of reform when the politicians are looking elsewhere.


Are introverts on the autistic spectrum?

I haven’t blogged on psychology so far – it’s not a subject I know much about, academically at least.  But this blog by Sophia Dembling in Psychology Today (thanks to Nic Prigg @nicola_prigg on Twitter) has really set me thinking.

Ms Dembling highlights a recent suggestion by a young research, Jennifer Grimes on introversion.  Instead of thinking about it as part of a spectrum with introversion at one end and extroversion at the other, might these not be entirely separate characteristics?  Instead try thinking about introversion on an autistic spectrum – with autism at one end, introversion at the other, and Asperger’s syndrome somewhere in between.  That’s not to suggest that introversion is a disability, as autism can be, but as a more helpful way of thinking about both it and autism.  It also opens the door to thinking about people who are both extroverted and introverted at the same time.

This carries me way of my depth.  I am familiar with autism in theory, but I don’t now any people with more than mild personality characteristics that I would describe in that way.  But I do know what it’s like to be an introvert – as I am a rather extreme version myself.  This comes out of the various psychometric tests I have taken, as well as a life time of personal observation.  I am very shy, introspective and do like to spend periods of time alone to collect myself.  I also spend a lot less time than most grooming social and family contacts – which means that I have a smaller close social circle than most.

But I can do empathy – and rather well.  In the organisations I have worked with I often take up the role of reconciler and peacemaker, seeing both sides to a dispute.  I usually read between the lines quite well, leading to an ironical sense of humour.  My friendships are stable and long-lasting, and only wither if I don’t devote enough time to them (which unfortunately happens quite a lot).  I can do politics – rather well when I put effort into it.  This is all somewhat opposite to how I’ve understood autism.  I would say the same for other introverts I know too.

So my first reaction is to think Ms Grimes is barking up the wrong tree.  But then perhaps that’s what she means by a spectrum – I’m not autistic, but share characteristics with those that are.  It has certainly set me thinking.  Perhaps a lot of my empathising skills are learned rather than innate? It would explain flashes of extrovert behaviour when my inhibitions are overcome (very rare).  And I do sometimes miss things in social situations too.  Which is no doubt what the what a lot of this is  about – trying to think of old problems in new ways.

The other thing that strikes from this article is how difficult psychology is as an academic discipline.  You are chasing shadows the whole time.  We can’t physically see what is going on in our minds, and be sure what is generating the same symptoms in different people has the same cause.  There is little that objective analysis can grasp on.  But we know the subject is important – a better understanding of the mind is critical to the well-being of us as individuals, and of society as a whole.


A tale of two City rogues

Too often people condemn City financiers without asking what it is that they do.  But we must try to distinguish the good from the bad.  The tale of two larger than life City financiers who have got into trouble brings this into focus rather neatly.

The first is Conservative donor and hedge fund manager Lewis Chester.  He, or rather the fund he manages, has been hit with a massive fine by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for abusive trading in mutual funds, the US equivalent of unit trusts and OEICs.  These collective funds provide opportunities for retail investors to take a share in a portfolio of investments without owning the shares individually, and are one of the best ways for ordinary investors (even very wealthy ones) to invest.  But they aren’t priced real-time, and that can leave them open to abuse.  In this case Mr Chester’s fund is supposed to have bought stakes late in the day, after prices had been fixed but when there was reason to think that they were under priced.    The fund was able to make a handy profit by selling the stake back later – but it came at the expense of the fund’s ordinary investors.

Hedge funds are investment funds given an unconventional or aggressive brief compared to the plodding ordinary funds which merely manage portfolios of shares and bonds.  Often the exploit pricing anomalies.  This isn’t very pretty, but usually it’s a way of transmitting information across financial markets and ensuring that everybody gets a fairer price.  On balance this is positive.  But when it comes to exploiting anomalies in mutual fund pricing there is no such information transmission.  It is simply theft, and there are rules against it. And even if rules aren’t actually broken, it is unethical, and anybody perpetrating it should be shunned by respectable society.

In this case Mr Chester still seems to be denying wrongdoing, dismissing his rather juicy emails as “banter” (gems like: Poor souls, working past cookie and milk time…for once in your lives, you can work like real men and do a proper day’s work. (You really are a bunch of women of the first order).).  But it’s gone through four years of judicial process and the fine has ended up at $100 million – though an appeal may be on its way.  I really hope that our own FSA is on his case, as if this is true he is hardly a fit and proper person to be conducting business here.

The second case is receiving much more attention, including two opinion pieces in todays FT.  It is Ian Hannam, a specialist in mining investments and friend of David Davis, the Conservative MP.  Like Mr Davis, and unlike Mr Chester, he is not a classic City smoothie who came up through the usual channels.  He got his boots dirty by travelling out to various dodgy parts of the world to take a closer look at the investments he was advising on, and talk tot he people that matter.  This is a striking contrast to so much of the City game of trawling through statistics and devising new computer programs.  He advised on investments and facilitated big deals.  Not pretty I’m sure, but you can see how this type of work can justify a big salary.  The net result is that more resources get mined to keep the world going in the style to which it has become accustomed.

Mr Hannam has been fined by the FSA £450,000 for flouting rules on insider information, for revealing too much about deals he was working on to clients.  I have no feel for the facts of this case, and Mr Davis has leapt to Mr Hannam’s defence.  What I do know is that the rules on insider information are tricky, and that there is a lot of grey in amongst the black and white.  If well connected insiders are getting all the best deals and making money out of the outsiders, this undermines confidence in markets.  But information is the lifeblood of markets, and restrict it, even amongst insiders, and markets will suffer.  It is already becoming more and more difficult for smaller companies to go public due largely to restrictions on information flow – and this will have a baleful influence on innovation.  Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Mr Hannam’s case the rules seem to be drawn too restrictively at the moment.

The last few decades have seen astonishing advances in the battle against world poverty.  A more globally integrated economy has been a key part of this, and global finance has been a key facilitator.  It has also been wildly abused, with too many fortunes being made to no socially useful end.  The public needs to take a closer interest in what goes on, to condemn the unethical (whatever side of the law they are on), but admire the people that genuinely make new connections and keep things moving – even if they cross the odd arbitrary line and get themselves into trouble.