Olympic Torch Relay

I’m prone to cynicism. I understand why lots of people are moaning about the London Olympics which are due to start this week. Brits love a good moan. Of course it is colossally expensive and of course this is galling at a time of austerity. Of course the restrictions placed by the organising committee (LOCOG) on use of related words and logos are heavy-handed and illiberal. Of course G4S has made itself look immensely foolish by its inability to secure sufficient numbers of security personnel. For sure the sponsors have too much prominence and are all global mega-corporations. And yes, Wenlock and Mandeville are supremely sinister-looking mascots.

But, despite all this, I think it is going to be a great spectacle and something that people will remember fondly for years to come, long after they have forgotten about the negatives. The first thing that got roundly criticised was the Torch Relay bringing the Olympic flame on an 8000 mile journey round the UK. Some denounced it for its supposed Nazi origins as it was first conducted ahead of the 1936 Berlin Games, although that didn’t seem to have worried many people at the 1948 London Games even though the horrors perpetrated by Nazi Germany were fresh and had been experienced by all at the time.

I was unconvinced by the value of the Torch Relay until a few weeks ago when we went as a family to watch it pass through Headingley on a fortunately sunny Sunday afternoon. The crowd was massive and cheerful. There was a real sense of excitement about seeing the torch – even though, as it turned out, with so many people watching it was all but impossible to see as it rapidly swept past. Normally the area is one which has the typical Guardian-liberal antagonism towards jingoism – few of the adults round our way were at all interested in the Jubilee – so seeing the streets filled with Union flags and innocent excitement at the spectacle was refreshing after a diet of often jaded anti-establishmentism.

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I was lucky enough to get to see the Torch Relay again a couple of weeks later as it made its way through Slough and passed right in front of my office (see, I may be a cynic but not a pessimist if I can put a positive spin on spending 3 days a week in Slough).

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As you can see, I got an excellent view this time round. Also, that the torch bearer (one of the non-celebrity local ones, a guy called Bob Dennis) was wearing contraband trainers rather than those from the official footwear partners of the Olympics. It looked like he was enjoying it as one of the best days of his life and one that he’ll not forget.

The visit last night of the torch to East Enders’ Albert Square had been long anticipated and caught the mood of the relay well. The partial live broadcast got the feel of the event. It was one of those relatively rare occasions when a soap opera reflects something real about the society it is set in. The episode also gave the impression of the mad events of an anxiety dream in following the normally hapless Billy Mitchell’s travails in getting back in time to do his stint as a torch bearer while also worrying about his errant grand-daughter Lola and the impending birth of her daughter (which took place in the inauspicious environment of McClunky’s Chicken Restaurant while he enjoyed the only limelight of his life). Which is probably how things felt to LOCOG when the G4S security problems came out! 

Ironically, I’m going to miss most of the Games themselves, but I’m not going to make the arrogant mistake of assuming that nobody cares about them and nobody is going to enjoy them. They’re going to be great and those who will carp are ultimately going to be the insignificant ones. Let them be grouches or take the 100/1 odds on Boris Johnson setting fire to his hair with the torch at the opening ceremony.

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Milk, Milk, Lemonade…

Dairy farmers are protesting at cuts in the prices they are being paid for milk by processors (the businesses which bottle up their milk or turn it into butter, cheese, yogurt and other products) and supermarkets. It certainly does sound pretty bad that apparently the prices are now so low that they don’t even cover the costs of production so that dairy farmers make a loss on every pint of milk they sell.

However, the difficult question is what should be done about it. Continue reading

A Fraud’s a Fraud, isn’t it?

Much has been and will be written about the revelations that traders at Barclays Bank made misleading reports of the bank’s borrowing rates when contributing to the setting of LIBOR rates over a period of years. Both the US and UK authorities have imposed fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars on the bank – large but not in the context of the bank’s own profits (around £5bn) or the size of the global interbank lending markets (which might be in the region of $300 trillion). Emails seen by the regulators and published after the fining decisions look depressingly and suspiciously “chummy” with traders seeking to have the figures massaged for enough personal or business gain to make them offer bottles of expensive champagne in return for such favours. From a lay perspective, the endemic dishonesty of the bankers involved seems to speak for itself.

So, unsurprisingly, there have been calls (from commentators all the way up to Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition) for criminal prosecutions of everyone involved as well as for leading bankers, like the CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, to resign, be sacked, repay all their bonuses, be put in jail, and placed in stocks outside the Bank of England. Or all of those things. Landing a hit on Diamond is particularly sweet for many because Barclays had infuriatingly managed to hold the nearest to the high ground available to any bank during the financial crisis by not having had to receive a direct bail out from the government.

But, accepting that there was clearly something wrong and criminally wrong about the behaviour of Barclays traders (and potentially those in the 19 other banks which are still being investigated and which were not as co-operative as Barclays in putting their hands up to what had happened), what crimes may have been committed and how might they be prosecuted in the UK?

There are three main options, first, as offences under the Fraud Act 2006, second as common law conspiracy to defraud and third, as instances of the cartel offence under the Enterprise Act 2002. Although the cartel offence is not an immediately obvious one to apply here, for practical reasons it may offer the most effective approach to take.

Continue reading