December 17, 2009 2:00 am
At first light we saw them. Initially just specks on the horizon but as the first shards of light broke through the gloom over the water the huddled and desperate mass of humanity broke into cheers. The little ships had come. The evacuation of the bankers was under way.
For days they had crowded on to every spare inch of the wharves and docks, huddling under the patio heaters and swigging VSOP to stave off the cold. And still the shelling from the Treasury continued. Vice-Marshal Alistair "Hermann" Darling had sent over squadrons of tax officials to drop windfall bombshells on the fleeing financiers.
The lucky ones had fled before the deadliest bombardment had begun. Angela Knight, the ubiquitous mouthpiece of British bankers' interests, had broadcast from Zug for some time, warning of the looming bonus-cide. For days before the final assault the platforms of St Pancras heaved with well-tailored evacuees catching the last Eurostar for the continent. Others had waited on the roof of the Tullett Tower for Chinooks to airlift them to the haven of a low-tax economy. Rudimentary shelters - some with only one en-suite - had been built for them in Geneva and Singapore.
But for most, the decision to flee had come too late and so the greatest concentration of financial talent Britain had ever assembled was now a broken rabble, pinned down by the blitz of financial regulation, higher NICs and a bonus windfall tax on their employers .
Many had begun to wonder whether they would ever get out in time. But then the little flotilla swept up the Thames. The nation had rallied to their plight and was on its way to ferry the bankers to safety. Not all the boats were up to the journey; many were not even fitted with chiller cabinets; but the grateful financiers scrambled aboard.
Having shelled out billions of their own money to save the banks, the British public was not prepared to see their boys slaughtered by penal tax rates, just to prop up some lousy spending on state schools. For the merchant seamen and pleasure craft owners it was a chance to do something for their country. Some remembered the debacle of Andrew Lloyd Webber's reported threat to leave the country if Labour won the 1997 election, when they forlornly swept the shore for hours in the hope of finding him. Many had feared this too would prove a ruse.
But even as the bankers fled they vowed to carry on the fight. They would fight it on the beaches, and on the ski slopes. From tax havens round the world they would plan B-Day - their glorious return from exile when their landing craft would sweep up the Thames, the bankers would bound back on to British soil and cheering crowds would welcome the liberation of the capital.
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