Jumping on someone else’s gravy train

by Daniel on September 2, 2004

OK gang, you know how much you love your mates at CT, now it’s time for you lot to do something for us. We need to get the Wisdom of Crowds to work to come up with an idea that will make us[1] all rich. There’s quite likely to be an election in the UK within the next twelve months, which means that anyone who wants big and lucrative government contracts needs to start donating to the Labour Party now.

[1]In case it’s unclear, I am not using “us” here in any sense that might include you lot.

I’m not joking. There are two great things about UK politics for a young chap who wants to get rich, as opposed to the USA. In the first place, we’re going through an ongoing process of privatising the public sphere, with very poor control over the terms on which the government assumes massive liabilities for the future. In the USA, you really have to be in the defence industry (or at a pinch running a prison) if you want to look forward to a lifetime of risk-free suckling at the government teat. In the UK, you can run schools, go into waste management, clean hospitals not very well, basically anything you like, all at surprisingly attractive prices. It’s the happy hunting grounds.

Second, thanks to our bans on political advertising, UK politics is not such a big-money game as US; you get a much bigger bang for your buck. Consider that $50,000 would barely get you a place on the ladder of fundraisers for the Republican party (specifically, you’d be a “maverick” rather than a “ranger” or “pioneer”, and be honest, “maverick” sounds pretty crappy). In the UK, however, at the going rate of £2,000 a pop, the same money that would make you a “Maverick” would allow you have eleven separate questions asked in the House of Commons.

Furthermore it appears to the cynical mind that the price list for more tangible government benefits is equally reasonable:

  • £50,000 buys you a £32m contract for smallpox vaccine
  • £125,000 buys you a letter of recommendation to the Romanian government for a steel mill auction
  • A couple of accountants’ time for two years buys you out of a multimillion dollar lawsuit and back on the list of approved firms for government work
  • And at the top of the menu, a cool £1m buys you an exemption from a tobacco advertising ban for Formula One

These returns on investment are absolutely fantastic! And the great thing is that while this sort of thing is obviously not exactly a poor man’s game, neither are the amounts entirely out of the ballpark for a small syndicate. Most of the CT staff are starving scholars or impoverished academics, but I’ve got a small bonus coming, John Q’s got his Federation Fellowship and a few of the others have probably got a bob or two they can scrape up. I reckon that we could easily come up with a £500,000 donation to the Labour Party once we’d convinced ourself that this was a better use for the money than bringing democracy to Gabon.

My guess is that we ought to get CT some sort of official status as “People’s Blog Laureate” with a budget of around £10m a year. Or possibly we could take on a couple of underprivileged kids under the terms of their anti-social behaviour orders and get City Technology Status. Maybe the four or five posts we wrote on Najaf would give us sufficient expertise to bid for a PFI contract to manage urban warfare for the Army. I’m not that fussed what we do as long as it’s under a long-dated contract with easy performance criteria and plenty of scope for us to renegotiate the contract once all the other bidders have dropped out and we suddenly discover it’s going to cost five times as much as we tendered.

Ideas, please?



digamma 09.02.04 at 1:28 am

In the USA, you really have to be in the defence industry (or at a pinch running a prison) if you want to look forward to a lifetime of risk-free suckling at the government teat. In the UK, you can run schools, go into waste management

Never watched the Sopranos, have you?


Andy Streich 09.02.04 at 2:10 am

Here in California the prison industry is doing wonderfully. The prison guard union is the second biggest contributor to state political parties and prison guard salaries have risen in five years from $15K to over $40K. Since CT is a poor-man’s lot (or so you claim), how about funding a single jail cell or small block of them? Perhpas contibutors could offer space in their flats?


Ian Whitchurch 09.02.04 at 3:31 am

Reserves reporting requirements for the UK oil industry.

Lots of opportunities for junkets, highly technical issues, the fact that current standards are a joke, and oh yeah lots of opportunities for insider trading once we get a look at BP’s etc data.


Kieran Healy 09.02.04 at 5:44 am

I used to work at an oil refinery…


Dan Hardie 09.02.04 at 11:03 am

This is the kind of baseless cynicism from unaccountable persons in the media which, as Onora O’Neill and John Lloyd have noted, is poisoning the political process in this country.

Having said that, I am more or less capable of staggering down to a library and scanning, or at a pinch even copytyping, chunks of someone else’s PhD thesis, so I am thinking of bidding for MI6’s work on researching the threats posed by countries with which we may be about to go to war.


Barry 09.02.04 at 11:36 am

Unfortunately for all of us with access to university libraries, they don’t even need that anymore in the US. I’ve seen one ‘Iranian threat’ article which looked like a search-and-replace job on an old Iraqi threat article. They actually used some human labor though, because they did replace ‘Saddam’ with ‘mullahs’.

Who says that the right isn’t into recycling?


Dan Hardie 09.02.04 at 12:14 pm

In which case I shall fall back upon Plan B- stuffing flak jackets into large cardboard boxes and phoning for a UPS courier, which will get me the MoD contract for supplying crucial equipment to war zones. There’ll be a sub-contract available for a PR to deal with any tearful war widows who object to this practice, if Chris Bertram is interested.


Matthew2 09.02.04 at 12:35 pm

a long-dated contract with easy performance criteria and plenty of scope for us to renegotiate the contract once all the other bidders have dropped out and we suddenly discover it?s going to cost five times as much as we tendered.

Excellent Daniel, and you’re in luck because Blair just announced that there will be plenty more of these vibrant PFI “collaborations” in the future.


dsquared 09.02.04 at 1:41 pm

digamma: Tony Soprano makes a pretty good living, but I’m not sure I’d call what he does “risk free”. If he were in the UK he’d have a much better time of things; all he would need to do would be to pop down to Hackney Council every six months to explain that the reason the rubbish hadn’t been picked up was due to the wrong kind of sunshine, and that they would need to pay him an extra couple of million to maintain his “commercial viability”.


dsquared 09.02.04 at 1:49 pm

dan: I didn’t understand why you were making these jibes at Chris when you started doing it and I certainly don’t understand why you’re carrying on at it.


Dan Hardie 09.02.04 at 2:04 pm

It would have something to do with his amusing inability to cope with criticism, and something to do with a grotesque remark he made criticising the media attention paid to the trivial matter of a woman objecting to the way her husband had been issued and then un-issued with body armour, and then shot in the chest. But, as Noel Coward would have said, Let’s Not Be Beastly to The Bertram. For now.


Jakes 09.02.04 at 2:33 pm

I think Dan Hardie’s remarks relate to a post of Chris’s back in Feb – a full seven months ago! The URL is here


In that comment thread, where DH misrepresents what Chris said anyway, Chris refers to DH’s “habit of getting overexcited about my posts”, suggesting that DH’s condition — some form of serial obsessive blogroach pathology — predates even that exchange.

Jeez, why don’t you folks at CT just ban this idiot!


dsquared 09.02.04 at 4:21 pm

because he often makes good points in between picking fights, and because we’re quite a tolerant bunch here.

Crooked Timber’s comments section is rather like a good pub; it has a big sign up saying “No Squaddies Welcome” …err….no, I, mean, we try to deal with troublemakers on the spot rather than by barring them.


Dan Hardie 09.02.04 at 4:54 pm

Fair enough, D-squared. Let my punishment be that I was accused of having an obsessive pathology by somebody capable of searching out a seven-month old comments thread.


dipnut 09.02.04 at 5:23 pm

You can’t get rid of Dan. If you get rid of Dan, there won’t be anyone to threaten me with bodily harm.


burritoboy 09.02.04 at 9:13 pm

Actually, my firm is (partially) invested with an investment manager who specializes in investing in just such enterprises (not just in the UK though) and they’re doing quite well. Apparently, not surprisingly they’re doing quite well!


John Quiggin 09.02.04 at 9:22 pm

In Australia, the conservative party gives out “maverick” status for free. At least that’s how I was described by one Liberal Senator (for opposing privatisation).

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