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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Financial Follies
Robert Peston asks a question he is unable to answer. This was certainly the case on Black Wednesday as Kenneth Clarke admitted in a television interview.On that occasion Peston's argument that decisions taken by an international super-rich stateless elite have unduly influenced policy and over-rode policy makers seems true. In so doing they have scooped a disproportional...
Published on 23 April 2010 by Neutral

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but too much detail
On the whole I have found this book to be an interesting insight into the working of the city and the type of people who make the decisions there. However, there are large protions of the book that go into too much detail, and even though I consider myself reasonably competent on the subject, i found the detail to be tedious and ended up skipping over paragraphs. The book...
Published on 5 Dec 2008 by Sean Hayward


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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Financial Follies, 23 April 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
Robert Peston asks a question he is unable to answer. This was certainly the case on Black Wednesday as Kenneth Clarke admitted in a television interview.On that occasion Peston's argument that decisions taken by an international super-rich stateless elite have unduly influenced policy and over-rode policy makers seems true. In so doing they have scooped a disproportional amount of the nation's wealth and the gap between rich and poor has increased no less under New Labour than under the Conservatives. What does emerge from Peston's coverage is that there are times when it is far from apparent whether anyone is running the country.

Peston identifies inefficiencies within the decision making system of which pensions is a good example. In 1997 Gordon Brown raided the pension funds of final salary schemes, removing tax credit on dividends. the reason behind Brown's policy was clear. He wanted to raise revenue to reduce the structural deficit in the public finances. Treasury officials expressed concern but Brown went ahead. The result was a decline in income to pensions funds over a five year period from 7.1 bn to 3.3.bn. Final salary schemes collapsed. Yet Brown's policy was the logical extension of Nigel Lawton's 1988 decision to limit the amount of surplus schemes could retain and of Norman Lamont's reduction in tax credits to pension schemes in 1993. Both were designed to raise revenue.

The political myopia demonstrated by politicians then became a farce with the introduction of stakeholder pensions. Theoretically designed to prevent alleged mis-selling and provide for the less wealthy, the stakeholder became a tax-free vehicle for the rich. Pensions minister, Ian McCartney, ignored unwelcome research statistics because they came from a Conservative David Willetts. Lord Turner, who headed the pensions commission, noted the response to Willetts was an exercise in damage limitation. He observed, "It is a classic example of how power works and the misuse of civil servants. The extent to which civil servants apply their intelligence to supporting their minister rather than actually thinking is quite distressing." Their ignorance of the real world was such that he wondered whether any of them ever read the Financial Times.

Peston deals with a variety of issues including the fund raising activities of Lord Levy, allegations of honours for sale - police investigation of which was hampered and harried by the political class. It spoke volumes when three of Blair's nominees for the House of Lords, all of whom had lend considerable sums to Labour, were rejected by the Appointments Commission. Other parties were also implicated. All those nominated claimed to be resident for tax purposes (or if not resident would make themselves resident) although a number failed to fulfil their promise and others who were resident made themselves non resident soon afterwards.

Peston describes precisely how the international financial crisis arose through excess lending against insecure assets and provides insight into how leverage was used to acquire, asset strip and sell off businesses. He discusses at length the careers of retailers Philip Green and Stuart Rose, neither of whom appear as attractive characters. They, along with Lord Levy, reinforce the old adage it's not what you know but who you know which counts. The trio are able to network with the richest members of society.

Peston is excellent on investment banks, hedge funds and how the super rich, encouraged by politicians, act in their own interest and with little or no control. Rather like the British kings who invited the Saxons for protection they have found their position undermined by people who have no allegiance to the country and pay no tax. The bonus culture remains indicative of their exclusive concern with their own wealth, short term gain at the expense of long term benefit and their open clash with the values of a property owning democracy. Peston believes concerted action is required to prevent the super rich from avoiding tax. Of course, that can only happen if the politicians are prepared to take on the public's concern and tackle the issues.

Peston's analysis that public services will continue to creak as more demands are made on it, while those who could contribute a sizeable amount to the national treasury do not do so is close to the truth. The only answer is to grasp the nettle of reform but doing so is likely to reduce opportunities for the present generation of politicians to move into well paid financial sector jobs when they leave Parliament. Peston's book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand how the international financial system works. Five stars without question.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A clear explanation of why the financial crisis has happened, 23 Dec 2008
By 
A. J. Sudworth "tonysudworth" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
I liked this book a lot because it does not treat the reader like an idiot
What is also good is that he evidently has talked to the people involved and so it includes a huge amount of personal views from some of the main protagonists. His explanation of the greed of the finacial wizards, the wrong headed approach of the government and the effects on you and I is very clear - the only problem after reading this is that the depths of the problems in the financial sector look a lot worse and its clear that we as individuals will pay for this collective failure.
I did not give it five stars because of a style issue is that certain things were repeated a number of times so that it read a bit like a collection of essays but overall if you want to understand why we have the problems in the financial sector and now the real world economy then I can recommend this. Think of the plus when someone asks you what a Structured Investment Vehicle (SIV) is - and thanks to this you will know. You'll be bemused was to why it was ever thought a good idea, but you will know what it was and why valuing them became such a problem.
And finally it comprehensively shows the failings of the Prime Minister when he was chancellor - he may not have caused all the problems but the policies he pursued have made the problem worse for us all - and our grandchildren as well. Read this and I suspect that you will not see him as 'Super Gordon' after this.
Damm good read - making financial economics interesting !
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where has all the money gone?, 1 Feb 2009
By 
James Galloway (Fife,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
Robert Peston writes excellent understandable and uncluttered english,dealing with what could be a complicated subject in a straightforward way [just like his television appearances].His detailed background knowledge of his subject, and the players in it,is impressive,and his explanations as to how and where the billions of all our money has gone,whilst not surprising,is most revealing.A must read.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Credit Crunch: who dunnit?: a good read, 27 Dec 2008
By 
R. Parry (Bahamas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
To predict the future it is necessary to understand the past and Robert Peston's book is a valuable, well written and easy to read way to do this. It is the recent background to the business elite of a Britain that now faces an unprecedented financial mess

It gives colourful insight into the big personalities ( Philip Green, Stuart Rose, Allan Leighton ) the big financial organizations ( hedge funds private equity firms, and globalised investment banks) and the big politics which provide the backdrop to the dance of excess and greed that led us into the current melt down.

Much of the material is not new but it is very well told. It's a journalist's book rather than that of an historian. In truth it is really a number of different short books pulled together between one set of covers. It is a series of stand alone stories: Arcadia Group, Marks & Spencer's, Royal Mail, a who's who of hedge funds and private equity and the background to the sale of honours.

Peston has had a ringside seat for the past few years and this book allows us to share his privileged access. Most of the individual stories are fascinating, well written and related by a deeply well connected and knowledge insider. Although, to be honest, the chapter on pensions is rather hard going and only for real enthusiasts like Lord Turner who gets numerous mentions.

The title is a little misleading and echo perhaps of the seminal "Anatomy of Britain". by Anthony Sampson. "Credit Crunch: The Suspects" might have been a better alternative.

And finally in one sense the book is a mystery story. Does Peston like Gordon Brown and the Labour party or not? He seems unsure himself but at least it keeps the reader guessing.

All in all an adornment to any book shelf.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but too much detail, 5 Dec 2008
By 
Sean Hayward (Arlington, TX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
On the whole I have found this book to be an interesting insight into the working of the city and the type of people who make the decisions there. However, there are large protions of the book that go into too much detail, and even though I consider myself reasonably competent on the subject, i found the detail to be tedious and ended up skipping over paragraphs. The book is now also dated due to the fast moving events of the last year.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This explains the mess that we are in !, 7 April 2010
By 
Mr. Mg Reynolds "Carry On fan" (Oxfordshire UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
If you want an honest assessment of how we ended up in this debt created crisis then this book reveals all.It shows how politicians cozied up to the rich while ruining pension funds and presiding over an unsustainable boom.You begin to see how the public debt grew as Labour tried to frame the public debate on public spending in a manner difficult for the Tories.As an M&S employee I am interested in all the take-over battles at Marks & Spencer when Sir Stuart Rose went head to head with Sir Philip Green.

This book is balanced as it points out that Lawson,Lamont and Clarke had a hand in the demise of final salary pension funds and that Brown has merely accelerated their demise by applying those flawed Tory policies faster.It shows how the stock-market went from providing a decent retirement income for most people to making a few folk into billionaires instead.Labour have ignored the democratic desire to get the rich to pay their fair-share of taxes to keep the wealthy in the UK so that public services could be funded without over-taxing middle-England or without(until recently) borrowing too much.

My point is that the banks lend money that we have in our savings accounts and that government spends money from us that we pay in taxes.So that is what is wrong about the ban bail-out as it is our money that has been used to sort out a mess created by supposedly intelligent people abusing our money(and by definition our trust).

But to conclude Robert Peston provides a balanced account of things and does point out that private equities,hedge funds and private sector involvement in the public sector are not always bad.City Academies prove that point.

I recommend this book to a person with an open & scholarly mind who wishes to be better informed about the present situation.Amazon are selling it for a fair price after all and it is well worth a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superfluous detail makes for a selectively interesting read, 9 Jan 2010
By 
M. Muddasar (England, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
A collection of business case studies, from Philip Green and Stuart Rose to Goldman Sachs and Allan Leighton, with trips into the dark alleys of government donations and the arguably inequitable corporate tax system.

Contains details and interesting personal interview extracts you won't find anywhere else. But reads like an exam script where the question (who runs Britain?), while answered well, is accompanied with unnecessary layers of information which will be welcomed by those with more time on their hands.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who Runs Britain, 18 Feb 2009
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
A very enlightening book. It describes how financial tricks have robbed the people of this country to enrich the few.

I learned a great deal and understand why we are in this mess.

It has only three stars because the book lacks structure and cohesion. It is repetitive and doesn't really address the subject matter as it relates to the book title.

Nevertheless, a worthwhile read.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars worth it, 28 Dec 2008
By 
MrB (Newmarket, Suffolk, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Who Runs Britain?: and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in (Paperback)
I got the impression that Peston was urged to put out a book quickly, so he used a lot of his old archive material (Green, M and S etc). But it's worth it as there are some good chapters on hedge funds, and a reminder that our banks were actually borrowing to buy all that toxic waste, which somehow drove home the stupidity of it all.
Not as good as his scoops!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Who Runs Britain, 19 Nov 2013
By 
J. J. Ward (Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a highly readable account of the UK's current problems, and still very relevant today, five years after it was first published. Peston writes clearly and his analysis is easy to follow and thought-provoking. A more accurate name for his book might have been its subtitle, "Who's to Blame For the Economic Mess We're In?" because the current title - "Who Runs Britain?" - is only tackled obliquely here. It's really a book about moneymakers and people buying influence. This is why I've given it four rather than five stars.

Some of "Who Runs Britain?" is explicitly speculative. One of Peston's biggest fears is that the financial-industry billionaires living more or less tax-free in Britain (and being encouraged to do so by Brown, and latterly Osborne) might well in the long term choose to use their money to found dynasties and influence politics. This is a very realistic anxiety, and Peston does his best to bring it out into the open. He's almost certainly right. "Who WILL run Britain?" might have been the best title of all.

The author has a talent for potted biography, and the chapters on Philip Green, Stuart Rose and Allan Leighton are amongst the most interesting and entertaining in the book (Green is especially interesting. If Peston is to be believed, he has an almost supernatural ability to know where any one person is, in London, at a given time). I felt better educated after reading this.
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