Solomon Hughes reports in the Morning Star:
PETER Mandelson has picked a new post boss. His choice of Donald Brydon as new chairman of Royal Mail shows that, when in doubt, Labour reaches for a banker.
Brydon will get £200,000 a year for his two days a week at Royal Mail. This might seem like a lot to you or me, but he has become used to big money from his long banking career.
Brydon started off with a 14-year stint at Barclays, followed by a job as chief executive of Axa Investment. He still sits on Axa’s board, although he stepped down as CEO in 2002.
He has always been an outspoken banker, but unfortunately spent a lot of time getting it wrong in a loud voice.
In 2003, leading investor Warren Buffet was predicting that complex financial derivatives were “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Buffet is not a radical – he is one of the world’s richest men, equally happy helping Arnold Schwarzenegger or Barack Obama.
But when Brydon heard Buffet’s warnings, he felt the urge to speak out. He seems to have been particularly worried that criticism of the financial system had come from within, from a businessman like Buffet.
Brydon chose to respond at a joint conference of British and US bankers. “We all need to be on guard lest regulations stifle initiatives in the retail application of derivatives,” he warned.
With his help, the meeting turned out to be something of an anti-Buffet rally, with other speakers denouncing Buffet as “frustrated.” As it turned out, Buffet was right and Brydon was wrong.
Brydon also felt the need to stand with then US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan against the critics of derivatives.
In 2003, Brydon claimed that, “as investor confidence has been rocked so the importance of risk mitigation instruments such as derivatives has increased.”
But derivatives actually added to the instability of the system – had they been properly regulated in 2003, we might not be in the mess we are in now.
Brydon’s worries that derivatives might be reined in stemmed from his general broad dislike of regulation.
He was also head of the Financial Services Authority “practitioner panel,” a group of bankers brought in to advise Britain’s financial regulator.
Unfortunately, their voices were heard all too well. The FSA remained deferential to the bankers and failed to stop the financial recklessness that caused the current crisis.
Brydon used his place on the panel as a pulpit from which to attack the “regulatory burden” and argue for the “need to remain vigilant that, in developing regulation, a point of no return is avoided where innovation, flexibility and competition are threatened.”
His own firm Axa showed why tighter regulation should have been imposed. In 2003, Axa Investment boss Brydon argued for less FSA regulation. In 2004, the FSA hit sister firm Axa Sun Life with a record £500,000 fine for misleading customers.
Mandelson described Brydon as “a proven business leader and successful chairman.”
Brydon’s experience certainly extends beyond banking. Unfortunately, he seems to have brought a banker’s mind to his industrial jobs.
He became chairman of high-tech medical firm Amersham and sold the company to US giant GE. He then became chairman of engineering firm Smiths Industries and promptly sold off its aerospace arm, again to GE.
The Independent was driven to say: “The former fund manager seems to be developing something of a knack for selling British publicly quoted assets at supercharged prices to overseas concerns.”
Subpostmasters and posties will not be reassured by a new boss who loves to flog things off.
Like many new Labour appointments, Brydon is also a longstanding Tory. As a student, he was president of the Edinburgh University Conservatives, befriending fellow Tories such as Malcolm Rifkind.
In 2001, he signed a letter to the press describing Ken Clarke as “the best hope to lead the Conservative Party back to government and create the social and economic climate necessary for business to flourish.”
Obviously this is handy, because Ken Clarke is likely to be his boss after the next election.
Unless of course the plans to sell-off our postal service, and other unpopular ideas, are dumped along with slimeballs like Mandelson.
What more evidence do you need? Does this sound like a Labour man to you… the man is a millionaire who helps out his fellow millionaires – to hell with the rest of us. Get this:
The Business Secretary has refused to reveal detailed information about his financial affairs despite the possibility that they could directly influence his ministerial decisions.
Instead, he has declared only that his “financial interests have been transferred into a blind trust”. The contents of the blind trust – which may include shares, properties and other investments – remain secret.
The existence of Lord Mandelson’s blind trust came after the Cabinet Office released a list of minister’s financial interests. The interests are those declared by ministers to Whitehall officials.
It is the first time that the list has been released and only interests “which are, or could reasonably be perceived to be, directly relevant to Ministers’ public duties” have been publicly disclosed.
The Business Secretary is one of five Government ministers to have set up blind trusts. The others are Ben Bradshaw, a health minister; Lord Myners, the City minister; Lord Davies, the trade minister; and Lord Darzi, a health minister.
A further nine ministers, including five members of the Cabinet, also disclosed that their spouses or close relatives are “consultants”. Few details about who they work for are revealed, raising questions about potential conflicts of interests.
Blind trusts have traditionally been set up to allow ministers to put their financial interests at arm’s length. Trustees are appointed to manage the trust and ministers are not supposed to have any role in deciding whether and when investments are bought and sold.
However, the arrangements have been criticised in the past. Tony Blair set up a blind trust after becoming Prime Minister. However, it later emerged that Mr Blair’s wife, Cherie, had directed the trustees to use the trust to buy two flats in Bristol.
Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister, also set up a trust to hold his multi-billion pound stake in Sainsbury’s supermarkets. The shares were not sold while he was a minister.
Officials have conceded that ministers will be aware of the investments held in the trust and that such an arrangement may present a “conflict of interest”.
Last night, it emerged that Gordon Brown revised the ministerial code to remove specific guidance to ministers on blind trusts. The official code of conduct previously warned that ministers with trusts may have to step aside from decisions related to their financial affairs.
The previous code stated: “It should also be remembered that even with a trust the minister could be assumed to know the contents of the portfolio for at least a period after its creation, so the protection a trust offers against a conflict of interest is not complete…In some cases, it may not be possible to devise such a mechanism to avoid actual or perceived conflict of interest.”
All references to blind trusts have been removed from the revised code of conduct drawn up by Mr Brown after becoming Prime Minister.
Westminster insiders have expressed surprise that the Business Secretary, a career politician, is wealthy enough to justify establishing a trust.
Accountants believe that Lord Mandelson must have assets worth at least £500,000 and probably more than £1 million to make it worthwhile setting up a complicated trust. Annual fees must be paid to accountants and lawyers running the trusts.
Mike Warburton, an accountant who runs trusts at Grant Thornton, said: “I suspect the trust is going to be in excess of £1 million or why bother. The concept of a blind trust has always struck me as a bit dubious as you are only going to appoint a trustee who is someone you know pretty well and trust.”