Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology have largely been viewed with suspicious sideways glances over the years by the UK government, but a noticeable and fairly seismic shift in attitude is definitely taking place.
The recent appointment of Rishi Sunak aside, other ministers, movements and politics are slowly edging into the space where few parliamentarians dared to tread until recently.
Sunak is, after all, an enthusiastic proponent of a digital Pound and, therefore, not necessarily the ‘Crypto-friendly Prime Minister’ some headlines would have us believe. There is a massive gulf of distinction between CBDCs – Central Bank Digital Currencies, which the current occupant of 10 Downing Street is pushing for – and cryptocurrency.
One involves central control over a digital version of an existing fiat currency, the other involves the removal of any central control held by bank or government. They may look like matching bookends, but they are barely in the same building, let alone propping up novels on the same shelf.
Sunak’s embrace of CBDCs, however, does drag the wider world of cryptocurrency into political conversations, so whether he holds them dear or not is neither here nor there. The fact is, he is driving around some very busy places with the word ‘CRYPTO’ unwittingly emblazoned down the side of his delivery van.
Looking away from the distraction of the PM’s fervour for CBDCs, there are other significant step changes that suggest Whitehall is gearing up to throw its arms around digital assets.
Perhaps most surprising was the announcement this week that a previous PM – Boris Johnson himself – has suddenly come out as a blockchain authority. No one – absolutely no one – saw that coming.
Boris Johnson will be flying out to Singapore to deliver a keynote speech to the International Symposium on Blockchain Advancements early next month.
It’s entirely possible that the ex-PM may well have spent his spare hours on a deckchair in the Caribbean prior to pulling out of the race to return to power last month furiously studying books on blockchain and crypto. Possible, but implausible.
Johnson is getting paid handsomely for his appearance. Only a matter of weeks ago he trousered a £130,000 fee from the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers in Colorado for doing a bit of stand-up, joshing raucously about sharing a bottle of Emmanuel Macron’s ‘fancy French wine’ with Angela Merkel.
It’s likely he knows as much about Bitcoin as he does about brokering insurance in the US. It’s clearly got much more to do with the fact that a former world leader can rake in a fortune on the speaking circuit – particularly if they milk it in that fertile hinterland they find themselves in so soon after leaving office. And milk it he shall.
But is that such a bad thing for cryptocurrency?
Parking the cynicism for a moment, it’s actually very positive for the crypto industry. As comically as Boris Johnson may be viewed through many eyes, he still possesses an astonishingly high draw factor.
Unforeseen as it may be, that celebrity status is bigging up blockchain – the very technology that underpins cryptocurrency.
Speaking of surprise announcements, Westminster’s other main crypto flag-bearer also decided to throw himself into the glare of the popular world by deciding to appear on ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here’.
Matt Hancock, up until Tuesday, was being taken seriously as an ambassador for cryptocurrency. He still could be. Imagine him discussing Bitcoin with his campmates between bites of kangaroo testicle on primetime TV. As thoroughly absurd and ridiculous it may be, that delivers some massive exposure.
The jungle-based cringe-fest pulls in audience figures of around 15 million. Half of them have probably never really given a thought to cryptocurrencies, but what if some of those transfixed masses subconsciously exchange some of their thoughts about marsupial maracas for sacks of Satoshis instead?
It’s an amusing thought, but yet again more unlikely public relations for crypto seeping out of Westminster’s pores.
On a serious point, there are dozens of MPs and peers with an active interest in decentralised finance.
And it’s not the preserve of the Conservative Party either. This week, a cross-party letter penned by former Cabinet Ministers was handed to Jeremy Hunt – Chancellor of the Exchequer – urging for some simple legislation changes that would “unshackle” the UK’s digital economy.
And all this while the Financial Services and Markets Bill, approved by the House of Commons last week, is about to be given the thumbs up at Lords too.
Yes, the House of Lords. The ‘Upper House’ that is often viewed as a stale and fusty gentleman’s club stamped with the heady aroma of port, cigars and that unidentifiable note of old people’s home.
Yet, believe it or not, it is at Lords where you find many members of the blockchain, crypto, digital asset and decentralised finance fan clubs. And it’s from these maroon leather-covered seats where many of the major decisions about our financial future and freedom are being made.
Here, you’ll find the likes of former Chancellor Philip Hammond, now Baron Hammond of Runnymede – a life peer and advisor to cryptocurrency firm Copper Technologies, in which he holds a stake in the $15m company.
It’s also the workspace of one of the most prominent champions of this industry, Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond MBE – a peer who hasn’t just been singing the hymns of FinTech for years, he’s been writing the damned tunes as well.
And if his name is familiar to you, he also happens to be a Crypto AM columnist and regular speaker at our events. Just as, more recently, Matt Hancock has, and will again later this month at the Crypto AM Summit and Awards, assuming he’s made it back from the Australian jungle in time.
It’s a small but growing band of political figures.
Right now, you’re witnessing the emergence of a cohesive movement between the House of Commons and the House of Lords which is not just gathering pace, but also gaining followers who believe cryptocurrency is a stable with some impressive thoroughbreds.
Westminster is backing this horse.