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Euroclearing is an inevitable casualty of Brexit. Even Leave campaigners told us that

The growing realisation in the City of London that the multi-billion Pound business of clearing Euro transactions through London’s financial system is going to come to an end with Brexit really shouldn’t be the shock some think it is.

Since Jeremy Browne, the former Liberal Democrat minister now acting as the City of London’s Brexit envoy, came back from visiting Paris and Luxembourg last week, the City has been panicking about the threats to its role, especially Euroclearing. It shouldn’t panic. It should resign itself to losing that lucrative business.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

It took the intervention of the European Courts in March 2015 to ensure London could continue to have a role in clearing Euro-denominated transactions after the European Central Bank tried to restrict that role to countries within the Eurozone. The court said that it had to be open to all countries within the European Union, not just those in the Eurozone. Obviously once we leave the EU this protection no longer applies and it would be extremely naive not to expect the ECB and other Eurozone countries to move to take back this business.

Certainly leading pro-leave economists were not naive about that, nor were they shy about telling us it would happen.

I chaired a roundtable in the City a few weeks before last year’s referendum attended by Gerard Lyons, one of the Economists for Brexit and a former adviser to Boris Johnson. He was clear in his view that if we voted to leave we would lose the Euroclearing role the UK government had fought so hard to win.

It is almost impossible to construct a argument for London retaining the role that goes beyond pointing to the expertise and systems that London has built up as it created a major role for itself in this business. Unfortunately, expertise and systems in the world of financial services are relatively easy to move, especially when there is regulatory and governmental backing for doing so.

It is an argument that was lost the day we voted to leave the EU. The City has to let it go and concentrate on the battles around access to European markets that can be won and which could be even more damaging if they are not.

May wanted the election to be about leadership: it is and she is the one coming up short

This election is not turning out as anyone planned or predicted. Who would have thought less than a week from polling day Theresa May would be fighting desperately to drag the campaign focus back to Brexit only to find Jeremy Corbyn swooping in to grab the headlines on the issue that was meant to be her strongest card?

A month ago most people didn’t give Labour a chance: now no-one is laughing when Corbyn talks of what a progressive Labour government might do if it wins. He is a formidable campaigner as his two victories in the Labour leadership elections show and this was the one factor I thought might save the Labour party from the oblivion predicted for it at the start of the campaign.

How do we find ourselves contemplating a Labour revival, at least in England and Wales, and where might we be when we wake up a week today?

It undoubtedly starts with the Tory campaign which must be one of the worst run by any major party for over 30 years. This was meant to be the Brexit election with May sweeping back into Downing Street in total command of the domestic political landscape. That is one scenario we can dismiss and the responsibility for that has to lie with May herself.


May personalised the campaign and now it is backfiring. It is her poor leadership that is under scrutiny

The moment she published her manifesto – she reminded us it was “my manifesto” several times at the launch – the wheels started to come off her campaign. The shambles over the ill-thought through proposals on social care exposed her weaknesses and, crucially, meant the Tories lost control of the campaign agenda. It allowed Labour and the other opposition parties to focus on domestic issues, a much stronger policy area for them. As the Tories floundered in the wake of the social care chaos they were able to mock her claims to be strong and stable: weak and wobbly quickly became common currency.

Little has gone right for the Tories since then.

Corbyn’s last-minute decision to appear in the BBC television debate was clever and further strengthened his position. He probably didn’t make quite as big an impact as he hoped but it certainly didn’t backfire on him and it has definitely further damaged May in the eyes of most of the electorate.

How will this play out over the next week?

We can be certain that the Tories will throw huge resources at the campaign but that will not help them much unless they can find a weakness in the Labour campaign to exploit in the same way as opponents have exploited their social care blunder. Will that happen? Who knows? As we all know a week is a long time in politics.

The entire focus now is on the extent and impact of the Labour revival. It has pushed the other parties to the relative periphery.

We all knew UKIP was as good as dead before the campaign started and so it has proved. The Greens just haven’t shown up, although they should hang on to their one seat.


Farron has struggled to make an impact

The failure of the Liberal Democrats to build any momentum has been one of the surprises of the campaign. On paper the promise of a second referendum should have been more attractive to many of the 48% who voted to remain in the EU last year. It hasn’t and the Lib Dems haven’t been able to re-focus their campaign strategy. Tim Farron has also struggled to develop the sort of gravitas that third party leaders need if they are to capitalise on the additional media coverage an election campaign brings. Think Grimond, Thorpe, Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy and even Clegg – Farron pales beside them.

The Lib Dems will do well to come out of the election with 10-15 seats, a long way below their expectations at the start of the campaign.

As to the overall result, a lot now depends on Scotland. If the Labour revival takes hold north of the border then the Conservative majority could be under threat – the polls suggest they could edge ahead of the Tories as the main challengers to the SNP. Couple that with any hint of a late Lib Dem uplift and we will be heading for a hung Parliament. Without that combination we will probably be more or less back where we started with a modest Conservative majority but with a hugely damaged Prime Minister who many in her own party will have lost confidence in.

May’s opportunistic election has damaged her and damaged the country and, above all, showed that the Brexit negotiations are far from safe in her hands.

Ill-thought out Tory social care plans won’t work

The proposals to pay for residential and home-based social care by taking a charge against the value of people’s property above a floor of £100,000 are so poorly thought through they are almost embarrassing.

We all know there are serious problems in paying for social care and that we have to find ways of funding it that are fair, effective and workable. The Conservative proposals are none of those things.

All the way through their manifesto it shows signs of having been written in haste (which we know it was) with little real debate or discussion and absolutely no sense-checking. It was  written by a small group close to May who clearly reflect her own chronic inability to take advice or listen to alternative points of view. No-where does this serious flaw reveal itself more than in the proposals for paying for social care.

They tell us nothing about how the scheme will work. Simple questions about how properties will be valued can’t be answered by anyone. Will it be the value at the start of social care or at the end (which could be years apart)? How will disputes about valuation be dealt with?

People paying thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds towards their care will expect a much greater choice and higher standards. Providers – local councils – will need to engage with people who will see themselves as customers in a much more enlightened way. Already many local authorities are shying away from the consequences of this by turning their backs on the existing system, as former pensions minister Steve Webb explained to the BBC this morning.

Could they launch an Equity Release boom?

Crucially, they say absolutely nothing about how this new scheme would cope with existing charges on a property and what there is to stop people using a first charge to shield the value of their property from social care charges. If people see the equity in their property as being the prime source of a generous inheritance for their children what is there to stop them taking out an large equity release plan, drawing down the money, and putting it in a trust for their children? Provided they live for seven years and the trust is properly constructed this will even be free from Inheritance Tax.

We all know that property values continue to be a huge distorting factor in our economy but many people have taken that into account in planning their own finances, including how they will cope with lower pensions and pass on money to their children. You can’t rip that up in their faces and expect them to meekly accept it.

As a consequence, the Tories may be about to spark a huge boom in equity release schemes.

There are no case studies, no details, no clarity about how the social care plans will work which is why they have been so easy to attack and dub the “Dementia Tax”.

The similar lack of detail about the plans to means test the Winter Fuel Allowance has also made that proposal easy to turn into a millstone around the Tories’ necks.

This isn’t just about the detail of particular proposals. It is also highly revealing of the style and competency of Theresa May and the small team around her. This is how they work: superficial thinking not shared with people, tested by experts and announced as take-it or leave-it choices. That will really work well in the Brexit negotiations.

Election debates turn attention away from policies and onto personalities

The televised debates between the party leaders introduced in 2010 and repeated in 2015 could fall by the wayside this time as a result of Theresa May’s refusal to participate.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? If you think elections should focus on policies rather than personalities then perhaps we are better off without them.

I accept that the personality of the person who going to be Prime Minister is not without some importance. However, we already know who that will be and if some political earthquake does occur between now and polling day and Labour emerges as the largest party is there really much we don’t already know about Jeremy Corbyn?

The relentless focus on party leaders – of which the TV debates have become a significant element – also shifts the culture of our politics further towards a presidential system and away from the Parliamentary system we are meant to cherish. This relentless focus on one person in each party leaves too much undisturbed in the policy undergrowth. As we are living in an age when policy matters more than usual it needs to be vigorously explored. The TV debates have never done that effectively.

The first set of debates in 2010 were interesting, partially because of their novelty and partially because they put the three main party leaders on an equal footing but they didn’t really help the electorate understand the policies the parties were likely to pursue once in government. There was a perception at the time that they helped Nick Clegg, the least well-known of the three, although people seem to forget the Lib Dems lost seats at that election. They still emerged as a large enough force to form a coalition with the Tories but were their policy objectives in a hung Parliament ever exposed in the TV debates? Not to my recollection.

By the time we got to 2015 the format had fragmented and just about everyone had successfully grabbed a lectern in the studio with seven leaders taking part in the main debate, some themselves not even contesting seats in the election. Other debates went ahead without David Cameron and some were reduced to solo appearances. It was highly unsatisfactory.

It was hard to escape the feeling that they had turned into a circus, carefully managed and done more for the benefit of TV ratings than voter enlightenment. With the huge army of spin doctors trying desperately to put their gloss on their leaders’ performances we moved even further away from focusing on people who were actually standing for Parliament. That isn’t healthy.

I won’t be sad to see them disappear and really hope that the TV companies don’t try to go ahead with a debate among opposition leaders with an empty chair for May, the rather childish suggestion of Nicola Sturgeon and others.

I don’t blame the opposition for trying to make some capital out of May’s refusal to take part but she may be doing the whole electoral process a big favour with her stance.

This is the Brexit election. That won’t be good for everyone

This will be the Brexit election. Labour may try to ignore the issue – judging by Jeremy Corbyn’s initial reaction – and shift the focus to the NHS, austerity and living standards but they will remain minor issues. It will be about Brexit. The fate of parties and individual MPs will hang on how they play this divisive, toxic issue.


The Tory manifesto will commit them to a hard, uncompromising Brexit. This will suit those MPs in favour of leaving the European Union but it will be a tough campaign for those who backed Remain and who might be feeling the hot breath of the Lib Dem passion for Europe on their necks.

The two big prizes to be gained for backing Brexit will be winning back votes lost to UKIP in the last two elections and potentially gaining large numbers of anti-EU Labour voters, although I can’t see that actually delivering many Labour seats into Tory hands.

The Tory strategy, especially regarding the Lib Dems, is likely to remain fairly fluid until after the local elections in the first week of May. Any hint of a major Lib Dem revival will see them commit significant resources to the constituencies deemed to be most under threat with blunt accusations about ignoring the will of the people. If that doesn’t happen then they will likely extend their targeting of vulnerable Labour seats.


The only thing that could have been worse for Labour would have been if Theresa May had waited until the boundary review was completed. By undoing the gerrymandering of the Blair government this threatens to wipe out dozens of Labour seats. New boundaries or old, Labour is in complete disarray: all over the place on Brexit, crippled by infighting and with an organisation that is incapable of managing the office tea round let alone a General Election.

All the signs are that Corbyn will stubbornly stick to his anti-austerity agenda. This may be very worthy but surely he hasn’t the ability to drag the campaign away from its Brexit core? If there is a little caution in answering that question it is because of the way he triumphed against the odds twice in Labour leadership elections.

It is still hard to see Labour doing anything other than losing 20 to 30 seats, mainly to the Tories who will work hard to attract anti-EU Labour voters.

Liberal Democrats


Farron: big test for inexperienced leader

The strong anti-Brexit stance of Tim Farron has already brought the Lib Dems electoral success in Richmond Park and is likely to do so in other former Lib Dem seats. They should regain several of the seats they lost in the 2015 meltdown, especially where they can exploit strong pro-EU sympathies against an equivocating or Brexit supporting Tory MP. The hopes of many in the party of emerging with 50 to 60 seats seem wildly optimistic at this stage: half that number would represent a major success.

The election has probably come too soon for their over-stretched organisation to exploit Labour’s potential vulnerability in some urban seats over its hesitant response to Brexit.

The biggest unknown is how the relatively inexperienced Farron will perform and whether he can impose himself on the campaign from a very weak position.


Virtually leaderless and with its main paymaster having gone off in a huff this election could mark the end of UKIP as an even vaguely credible political force. They will find their vote relentlessly squeezed by the Tories and even with Labour performing poorly it is very hard to see any prospect of the once much trumpeted UKIP threat in Labour heartlands amounting to anything.


The SNP will remain the dominant force in Scotland, the only question being just how dominant? The strong pro-EU majority in Scotland won’t be easily attracted to the Tories and Labour hasn’t done anything to win back its once loyal voters. The Lib Dems could take back a couple of seats with their anti-Brexit, pro-Union message but we can be certain of a strong SNP presence at Westminster for several more years.

There will be twists and turns, the odd rogue opinion polls and possibly some shockwaves from the French presidential elections but as the starting gun is fired on a seven week campaign the smart money has to be on May being re-elected with an increased – but not overwhelming – majority and a renewed mandate for a hard Brexit.

Carney’s letter is smokescreen to allow firms to break cover on hard Brexit plans

The letter from the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, to UK financial institutions telling them to prepare contingency plans for a hard Brexit with no trade deal, equivalence or passporting for financial services is a clever public relations manuoeuvre.

Some of the headlines it has attracted might leave readers with the impression that many financial institutions are in a state of denial over the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations, naively clinging to hopes of a deal that doesn’t disrupt the cross-border trading and client relationships. In my experience of talking to a lot of senior folk in a wide range of City firms this is far from the truth. From last summer they have been drawing up plans for a hard Brexit with few deals that preserve the status quo with Europe.

What they have struggled with is making these plans public.

Time-HourglassAs the sand starts to fall fast on the Article 50 negotiations they need to make decisions, not least on how to maintain crucial access to European markets. In particular, they need to finalise decisions on where to domicile their European business. This is where they find themselves in a difficult position.

Firms know these decisions have to be made in the next few months if the regulatory hurdles are to be negotiated, premises found and equipped and staff recruited in time for the end of the Article 50 process in March 2019. However, going public on these decisions represents a huge vote of no confidence in the ability of the UK government to come out with a softer Brexit deal that keeps access to European markets for financial services on the same footing as present. This doesn’t wash with the Brexit ministers who don’t want to hear what they consider to be defeatist talk.

Tensions in City firms

We have seen tensions surface at firms when people have gone public prematurely on their plans, such is the nervousness about alienating government ministers – JLT backtracks on Brexit contingency plan statements. Carney’s letter is a smokescreen to allow them to break cover and push on with their hard Brexit plans.

It follows hard on the heels of Lloyd’s of London announcing its decision to set up a new office in Brussels. This has given the green light to the rest of the insurance industry to move ahead with their plans.

Negotiations have started badly

If there were people in the City who really believed the UK government could exit the EU and maintain almost uninterrupted access to European markets within the frantic Article 50 timetable, that mistaken confidence has been vigorously shaken by the opening phases. Theresa May’s notorious inflexibility has seen her government already outmanoeuvred on free movement of people and Gibraltar, not to mention the Scottish independence referendum.

Financial institutions know they must take control of their own destinies because they are not safe in the government’s hands. Carney has given them the green light to do just that.

Looking for a journalism placement? Then make sure you ask some good questions

I was asked to participate in a careers fair at my old school recently and knowing that one of the most frequently asked questions of those of us representing the media would be how to go about getting work placements I thought I would see what advice was around to help students.

There is some excellent advice on CVs, covering letters, building-up portfolios and interviews but very little on what sort of questions a prospective journalist should ask. In my experience few things kill the prospects of someone getting a placement than not having any questions, so I put together some advice for the students which I thought I would share more widely.


Applying for Journalism Work Experience

When you apply for a placement or internship you will be asked plenty of questions about why you want to work in journalism or the media. Always research the title or programme you are applying to by looking at its website (and the website of its parent company). If it has a print edition try to get hold of a recent copy (not always possible with specialist publications).

Look at some of the recent major stories it has covered and expect to be asked about them or similar stories and what the angle might be for their readers.

When you are asked why you want to be a journalist remember that journalism is as much about finding information as it is about writing so display an inquiring mind, a willingness to talk to people and a desire to communicate.

You may be asked about current media-related controversies such as the Leveson Report and state-regulation, fake news or celebrity privacy as a way of testing how deep your interest in journalism and the media goes. You don’t need detailed, erudite responses but be prepared to demonstrate an interest in the industry you want to work in.

There is plenty of advice available online about what to expect in terms of the sort of questions you might be asked. is a very good source.

Ask questions

One area where people applying for placements frequently fall down is in not having any questions of their own. No-one is going to employ someone as a journalist who doesn’t ask a few questions.

Here are ten suggestions to get you started.

  1. Will I get a chance to write something that could be published?
    You should aim to come away from a work placement with something tangible you can show from your time there. Obviously, it would have to be good enough but you should be given the opportunity.
  1. Who are your readers/users/viewers and what are their information needs?
    Who you write or broadcast for is every bit as important as what you write            about. You should do some basic research on this before any interview so you         might frame it by saying “I know your readers are marine engineers/people in         Woodford but how do you identify what stories they are interested in?
  1. Where else do your readers get their news and information from?
    A good follow-up to this would be to ask about their main competitors and                  how they differentiate themselves from them.
  1. How has your publication/website/media station changed in recent years with the huge shifts in digital consumption?
    Every media organisation is being challenged by the digital revolution. It has disrupted media consumption and the revenue models. It has meant a shift from print to digital but if you are talking to a print publication never assume that print is going to die: by all means ask their view but don’t make it look as if you have assumed they have no future!
  1. What influence does social media have in your market/area?
    Or you could ask which social media platforms are the most important to them and how they use them.
  1. Will I get the opportunity to attend events?
    Depending on the nature of the publication there might be a variety of events, such as conferences, shows, launches or awards nights. Ask if you will be able to go to anything, especially where you might be able to meet readers.
  1. Is there anything you would like me to work on in advance?
    Suggestions could include getting familiar with the publication’s style, researching some story ideas, finding a fresh angle on a long-running story or just familiarising yourself with the news about the subject, industry, location, topics etc the publication covers.
  1. Will I have a mentor?
    For a short, two-week placement this might be a luxury but you should ask about opportunities to speak to people at different stages of their careers, especially those only a few years into it as they should have plenty of relevant advice.
  1. What should I wear?
    Dress codes are very flexible nowadays but they still exist and you need to make        sure you fit in. If you don’t get any information about this err on the side of                 being smart to start with.
  1. Will I get paid or get travelling expenses?
    This often causes embarrassment later on if everyone isn’t clear at the start.               Company policies differ greatly on this and often the person deciding whether            to offer you a placement will have no say over the policy so it won’t be an                     opportunity to bargain.

Pitch some ideas when you finish

At the end of a successful placement you should explore whether there are any opportunities for you to keep working with them.

This is might take the form of writing for them as a freelance – for which you should expect to get paid. However, you will have to make this happen by pitching some well-thought through ideas to them.

Or, you could ask about a longer placement during the holidays. If it has gone well they might view taking you on during the holidays as an easier option than finding someone new.

Download a pdf of this advice placement-advice

There is also an excellent article by Lucy Sherriff in Huffington Post about how to make the most of a placement.