The Uxbridge connection

The last time I met the sitting MP for Uxbridge was in 1988 while a politics student at nearby Brunel University. Michael Shersby, the then Parliamentary representative for our local constituency, generously hosted Brunel’s annual Government Society dinner at the House of Commons, and arranged an array of guest speakers.

One year, we were fortunate to have the Speaker, the then Bernard (later Lord) Weatherill, who came to talk about democracy and the importance of being actively involved.

On another occasion, sharing the evening with the local Conservative Association, we were slightly less impressed by Minister of Education Angela Rumbold. Possibly labouring under the misapprehension that we were the University’s Conservative Students Group, she decided to lecture us about how the Tories were ‘good for education’.

We listened politely and then gave her hell in the Q&A session that followed. My particular contribution to the debate was to ask her to square her comments with the cuts to our courses, the fact that we couldn’t any longer combine politics with modern languages studies, and remarks wrongly attributed at the time (and since retracted by The Guardian, as reported here) to her colleague Norman Tebbit that ‘no one with a conscience votes Conservative’.

This went down rather badly, the Minister clearly knowing better than a callow university student that Tebbit had never uttered the words as reported. I was listened to and then put in my place. When we came to board the coach back to Uxbridge, the blue-rinse brigade from the local Conservative Association could barely disguise their anger at my supposed cheek.

“Disgraceful behaviour, no respect, ought to be ashamed,” came comment after comment.

As students, we all found it rather amusing. And Michael Shersby, awarded an Honorary Degree by Brunel in 1994, clearly thought nothing of it, inviting us back the following year.

So cut to 2019 and a chance meeting at Zurich airport with the current Uxbridge constituency MP, none other than Boris Johnson, he of the fairly unassailable 11,000 majority and equally strong leadership ambition.

Fresh from allegedly trousering €30,000 (£26,500) to tell the Swiss Economic Forum (not the WEF, for you Davos watchers) that Britain will leave the EU on October 31, ‘with or without a deal’, a slightly untucked and dishevelled Johnson was easily spotted in the Swiss airline lounge, scoffing a large plate of chickpea salad by the food counter.

“Jolly glad of your support,” he mumbled, while agreeing to shake my hand.

Another Uxbridge MP who’s mistaken me for a fan, I thought. But I held my counsel this time.

Offshore, out of sight, out of order

My fifth call of the month from an offshore financial adviser. These are the people who lurk outside the highly regulated ambit of UK financial services industry legislation, in just about every place where Britons work abroad – Hong Kong, Dubai, Guernsey, Malta, most major European capitals.

What’s wrong with them? Well, how long have you got? They’re usually unqualified, mostly paid by commission so hugely incentivised to sell unsuitable, cost-loaded products. Oh, and they’re also unregulated. Or at least not registered to give financial advice – with no onshore financial regulator bothered enough about checking up on what they do. In some countries it’s worse – they’re often self-regulated. All of which amounts to much the same thing: there’s no protection available for consumers when it all goes wrong. And it does go wrong, frequently. Continue reading

Brits abroad are prey for poor advice

It must be the warm weather that brings them out. It’s February and 15 degrees in Switzerland, bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight. And the phone’s ringing.

It’s yet another cold call, the fifth this week, from one of the earnest young Britons hired in droves by the usually greedy, often desperate financial services organisations that reside in lightly-regulated financial markets around the world.

Wherever you find Britons working abroad, you’re sure to find a cluster of these financial outfits, mostly managed by oleaginous shysters who couldn’t hack it in London, and staffed by ingenues with barely a grasp of finance know-how beyond the obligatory in-house crash-course in hard-selling. Continue reading

Why online estate agents aren’t worth it


Imagine you’re buying a house, you see an ideal place on a leading property portal and then make an appointment to view with the estate agent.

If you’re dealing with one of the 10,500 or so members of the National Association of Estate Agents then the chances are you’ll speak to a real person in a real office who’s knows the vendor and has a personal stake in getting the property seen by as many people as possible. If you don’t, well, you’ll take your chances… Continue reading

What did you do in the great financial crash, grandad?

Reuters European HQ in Canary Wharf London, pictured in 2006
I remember asking my grandfather what he’d done in the Second World War and his answer held me spellbound.

Whether tales of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 that more or less kicked off ten years ago today will similarly capture children’s imagination in years to come seems unlikely, even though its lessons are arguably not too much less significant for future generations.

Why? Because failing to learn the lessons of the past bodes ill for an ever more integrated global financial system and world economy, and that means his, your, my – our wealth and prosperity. Continue reading