These days, politics is often likened to The Thick Of It, the wonderful satire of party politics, hapless MPs and scheming officials.
Yet it was an earlier (and far superior) TV series that came to mind when I walked around the Tory party conference: House of Cards. Specifically, the observation of fictional chief whip Francis Urquhart that “a party conference can be many things: a show of confidence, an agonizing reappraisal, or, as in this case, a series of auditions by pretenders to the throne, while the lost leader withers before our very eyes”. The gathering in Manchester was an odd affair. No buzz, no enthusiasm. Nothing to celebrate beyond still being in office and no sense of a vision for the next five years. The timidity of the policies unveiled reveals a government that has run out of steam but that lacks the mandate and majority to do much even if it were overrunning with ideas.
Ideas were on offer, but not in the main conference centre. If you wanted to get stuck in to some proper policy debates or political philosophy, the fringe was the place to be. This is where members gathered to debate the future of the party, unpick what went wrong in the campaign and flesh out policy ideas. I was a guest on a number of panels, including one entitled Making the Moral Case for Markets. Following Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise showing in the last election (and May’s near defeat) there is now a fresh understanding of the importance of arguing in favour of free markets, as well as highlighting the failures and weaknesses of the alternative. Unfortunately, leaving it up to Philip Hammond to make this case isn’t going to cut it. The arguments for free markets need to be reframed in the language of freedom in general. After all, freedom, choice, liberty and economic empowerment are more attractive than Hammond’s dry warning about the importance of free markets to a robust private sector pension system.
The 10-year anniversary of the start of the financial crisis has prompted much debate about what (if any) lessons have been learned, but there has been less analysis of how financial markets themselves have actually changed. Enter a timely report by the capital markets think-tank, New Financial. Their study, A Decade of Change, looks at which sectors have suffered and which have flourished in the decade between 2006 and 2016. Firstly, the regulatory landscape is unrecognisable, with more than 30 new agencies set up in the EU and US. Regulators’ budgets have grown by a third and staff numbers are up 40 per cent. Investment banks have taken the brunt of the post-crisis beating, with revenues down by a third since ‘06 and pre-tax profits halved. On the flip-side, hedge funds, private equity and venture capital have all more than doubled in size - with VCs leading the way on performance. It’s a detailed, accessible and timely snapshot - and well worth a read.
The battle between bankers and Bitcoin continues to rage following JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon’s broadside against the cryptocurrency. Now UBS chairman and former Bundesbank President Axel Weber has joined the fray, saying his scepticism comes from the fact that a currency “has to be generally accepted, it has to be a store of value” whereas Bitcoin “is only a transaction currency.” Meanwhile Goldman boss Lloyd Blankfein says he’s “still thinking about it.”
Read more: Yo-yoing prices show Bitcoin is no cash cow
It’s hard to escape the booze at a party conference, not least at The Sun’s party in Manchester earlier in the week, where guests enjoyed cocktails called, among other things, Red Top, May-Flower and Confidence and Supply. I’m told plans to offer a Strong and Stable were thwarted by licensing rules about actually calling a drink strong. Meanwhile, the Tories' 1922 Committee of MPs announced plans to produce their own gin, in association with the City of London Distillery. MPs will select their own botanicals for the brew. Nothing too bitter, I hope.