29 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 32

Enoch has a tip for Gordon, and another for Mrs Watanabe

Enoch Powell fixed me with an eye like the Ancient Mariner's and asked why I thought he was joking. He had called on the government of the day (Margaret Thatcher's) to privatise Britain's official reserves, I described the suggestion as humorous, and his summons followed. The state, he said, no longer needed them to underwrite the pound, which was free to find its own level. It should sell all these bars of gold and stacks of dollars and apply the proceeds to a good cause, such as reducing the National Debt. I quailed before his logic. Even today, when the reserves are valued at $17 billion, Gordon Brown might ask whether they are supposed to be for use or ornament, and feel the temptation to bring them to market. He has a difficult budget ahead, as he will have to tell us next month, and the proceeds of his clearance sale would keep him going for — ooh, ten days or so. Tell Sid! Britain, which taught the world how to privatise, could then hope to have taught the Japanese. They have bought all the dollars that the Americans could throw at them and their reserves have now swollen to $600 billion, sitting uselessly in vaults. This would furnish the biggest privatisation of all time — tell Mrs Watanabe — but an even simpler proposal suggests itself. These reserves should be distributed to the Japanese people: $5,000 for every man, woman and child. That would be enough to start them spending and to give their country's Sleeping Ugly economy its long-awaited kiss of life. A humorous suggestion, would you say? No more than Enoch's.

In for a soaking

Some half-remembered doctrine from the Book of Enoch must have lingered round the Treasury when the Chancellor decided to sell half the nation's gold reserves. He exchanged them for other people's paper currencies, and the price of gold promptly took off and has now risen by 50 per cent. He had forgotten (and perhaps the sage had chosen to forget) what the reserves are really for, which is a rainy day. Since his sale, the world's skies have clouded over. In the deluge of war, paper money is apt to get soaked, and the signatures on promises to pay wash off. We have grown used to a world where the barriers have come down and money speeds unchallenged on its way, helped on by the newest technology. It is a bad omen for paper currencies when terrorists make international banks and financial marketplaces their targets. Gold survives the deluge.

No discipline

Playground Europe's two biggest bullies have successfully asserted that the rules do not apply to them. It was all very well to pick on weedy little Portugal, blame it for profligacy, stand it in the corner, but picking on Germany and France? Forget it, and forget the growth and stability pact. This was meant to penalise the big spenders and borrowers, but the assembled finance ministers of Europe agreed this week that it wouldn't. There was always something daft about a pact which would have fined the culprits, thus obliging them to borrow even more. Even so, this was as close as Europe had got to a fiscal policy to match the monetary policy of its central bank, which has been reduced to helpless fury. How long before the next playground bully treats its disciplines as optional? At the beginning of this month I told the story of what happened when Transylvania, under a new government formed by the Stakeholder Party and led by Dr Van Helsing, decided to give itself a break from the euro. First the fable, then the reality.

Turkey at Twickers

Thanksgiving at Twickenham this week has nothing to do with the World Cup. HM Customs and Excise have booked the Rugby Union's stadium for Thursday and are putting on an open day, in association with the Inland Revenue and the Health and Safety Executive, widely regarded as the three terrors of corporate life. Now they welcome the little fishes in with gently smiling jaws, offering them free advice on

how to run their businesses. Free? Well, the taxmen and VATmen could tell you who pays, if you ask them, but why spoil a happy occasion? Seminars are billed to run throughout the day, with a jolly hour on Customs civil penalties, and another on keeping down the cost of entertainment; so don't expect tea and biscuits. In what appears to be a graceful tribute to the English stand-off half and matchwinner, there will be drop-in centres. All to do with scoring points, no doubt, or reaching goals. I am sorry not to be there, but the fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day, which I always observe, having my own idea of what constitutes a turkey.

The Tories' treasure

The tidal wave that has washed through Conservative Central Office, carrying the inhabitants before it, will soon wash the building away. Lord Saatchi wants something light, white and clean, and it fails on all three counts. Even so, I find it hard to credit the idea now being canvassed — that George Magan, the party's treasurer, will float out with the tide. Resourceful, wellinformed and, thanks to a successful partnership with the Harnbro family, apparently well-heeled, he would have made a useful Chief Whip but became a formidable dealmaker, and was somehow coaxed aboard the leaky ship to try to plug its finances. They look better now but, of course, what brings money into a political party is the prospect of success. If the Tories are indeed moving round the market cycle and progressing from panic to funk, that will make its treasurer's work easier, but nothing would appear more panic-stricken than a decision to quarrel with him now. No doubt he has enemies at Central Office, but who hasn't, apart, I suppose, from the party in power? That is why the wave was let loose.

Housemaid's knee

It appears that the footmen at Buckingham Palace were not all they should be, but footmen are like that (writes my social editor, Patella Bender). Lord Curzon found that the footmen at Kedleston spent all their time rowing boats on the lake. misappropriating Lady Curzon's headed paper and seducing the housemaids: 'Really,' he complained, 'the modern footman is a puzzler.' At least they stopped short of moonlighting for the Min-or.