Coronavirus: Think stockpiling loo roll is bad? Tory speculators are making millions – Brian Wilson

As companies struggle to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, speculators are making a fortune by betting against them, writes Brian Wilson.
Supermarkets have been taking special measures to ensure supplies of food and other products because of stockpiling (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)Supermarkets have been taking special measures to ensure supplies of food and other products because of stockpiling (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)
Supermarkets have been taking special measures to ensure supplies of food and other products because of stockpiling (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

My favourite tweet of recent days mused: “Mind blowing how some boy in China ate a bat and it eventually led to the postponement of Elgin v Brechin City.”

Apart from being funny, which we need, it contained an essential element of truth. We live in a small, inter-connected world and rarely consider the fragility of the edifice on which all our assumptions are based.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There has been nothing like this in my lifetime. But if, as a society, we emerge having learned no lessons, the conceit of invulnerability undisturbed, then it will all have been for nothing.

The first obvious one is about the power of the state as a force for good. We are ritually conditioned to denigrate state spending and enterprise as if they were fifth-rate impediments to the genius of the private sector.

Read More
Coronavirus: Scottish independence and Brexit once divided our politicians. But ...

Yet at the first whiff of grapeshot, it is the state which must intervene – massively as only it can. Titans of capitalism emerge from their tax havens to demand public money. How much of their personal fortunes will they contribute?

The state can only do its job if, on an ongoing basis, it is properly funded. The pretence you can have a low-tax economy which provides high-quality services and is prepared for all eventualities should never be allowed to recover.

One relic of the crisis I would like to see preserved is the list of “essential occupations”. It includes the caring professions, the educators, those who maintain essential services, produce our food, stack the shelves we are so desperate to empty.

Jute Mill Song still holds true

The list does not include hedge-fund managers, PR consultants or breakfast TV presenters. Yet this pyramid of social dependence is in sharply inverse proportion to the one of financial recompense.

Not everything has changed since Mary Brooksbank wrote her great Jute Mill Song: “O dear me, the warld’s ill divided/ Them that works the hardest are the least provided...”

When this is over, let there be greater respect for the people we now so desperately depend on. The guys who empty our bins are an awful lot more useful members of society than special advisers who consider themselves masters of the universe. That pecking order should be built upon and reflected in what the “essential services” are paid.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There has been understandable media interest in the daftness of panic buying as an unfortunate reflection of the human condition. Fair enough – but greed takes much more sinister forms and I suggest news values should be adjusted accordingly.

Fortunes are being made by speculators who bet against companies facing a decline in value – and there are plenty of them at present. Pleas from regulators to desist from “shorting” fall on deaf ears because there are fortunes to be made in times like these.

Re-writing history

The invaluable Private Eye names a couple of major Tory donors who have made “tens of millions” in recent weeks from such misfortunes.

Wouldn’t it be good if as much TV time was devoted to pursuing these miscreants to their doorsteps as on the folly of fighting over toilet-rolls?

I have no quarrel with what Government is doing in the circumstances as they exist. There are no rights or wrongs, only a balance of options to which human judgement – medical or political – must be applied. Good luck to those entrusted with these responsibilities.

But I do object to re-writing history under the cover of a pandemic. Take for instance the nonsensical statement by Ian Blackford MP: “In the last financial crisis, the banks were bailed out, the ordinary people were not.”

Mr Blackford surely knows the banks were bailed out because – due to the crazy irresponsibility of his fellow bankers – ordinary people’s savings were about to be lost, ATMs were within hours of not paying out and the financial system was about to grind to a halt. It was indeed “ordinary people” who were bailed out at that time.

Perhaps Mr Blackford and I can agree that the subsequent failure to punish bankers who had endangered the ordinary people was, and remains, a public scandal. Perhaps and perhaps not.

But let’s always learn lessons for the future.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.