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Guvnor fights to keep consumer king

Dark clouds are looming for the Threadneedle Street gang, which exerts a vice-like grip on the City, as its leader Mervyn King, aka "The Guvnor" meets with his aides Paul "the kid" Tucker and Charlie "blackeye" Bean.

Tucker: Guvnor, have you seen the figures; it's not pretty out there. Consumer spending's down, retail sales have taken a bath, growth is slowing and the housing market's stagnated.

Guvnor: Steady, kid. Never let 'em see you scared.

Tucker: People are starting to panic.

Guvnor: Well, just make sure you're not among them. Show fear and people lose all confidence in you; start to panic.

Tucker: So what do we do?

Guvnor: Nothing.

Tucker: Nothing Guvnor?

Guvnor: That's right; nothing. We sit tight. Front it out. Just like Big G will.

Bean: You've seen the chancellor?

Guvnor: I've seen Big G. He's not best pleased. He got back last week and he's had a look at the books. He wants to know who's to blame.

Tucker: But surely he is, Guvnor.

Guvnor: You want to tell him that? You fancy swimming up the Thames in a concrete overcoat or a senior role at the Department of Productivity?

Tucker: No Guvnor. But he's been playing the long bond on the punters.

Bean: You mean the long con.

Guvnor: Same difference. But they've wised up to the sting and now he's afraid to take their money. He sees the chance to be boss of bosses and doesn't want to make enemies. He's looking to us to keep things calm.

Tucker: What do we say when people ask us what's happening?

Guvnor: We tell them not to go sticking their noses where they ain't wanted. There's no room for amateurs.

Bean: Spending's down, inflation's up. You don't want to misread the signs. That's how accidents happen. You could face a very nasty correction.

Tucker: So we want them to spend, but not too much. How do we do that?

Guvnor: We have a friendly word.

Bean: We tell 'em: We know where you shop. We'll be watching you. We know when you go to the Bullring.

Guvnor: We've seen you at the Metro Centre. We know about your trips to Bluewater.

Bean: Looking at the plasma screens.

Guvnor: Thinking about a new car.

Bean: I'd wait a year, if I were you.

Guvnor: We also know when you shop. We still expect to see you there.

Bean: Just don't go throwing your money around.

Guvnor: We've seen you at Asda.

Bean: We don't want to see you at Waitrose.

Bean: Treat yourself to a latte at Starbucks; that's fine.

Guvnor: But make it a small one.

Bean: Buy fruit. It's good for you.

Guvnor: Except those expensive imported fruits.

Bean: They wouldn't be good for you at all.

Guvnor: You see, kid. We keep them guessing. There's all kinds of pressures out there.We might let rates go down or we might just hit 'em again, whack up our rates to teach 'em a lesson.

Tucker: Surely no one will believe we need to put up our rates now.

Guvnor: Why not? You 'ave for the last two months. As long as we look like we might act, we won't have to. That's the beauty of it. As long as they think we think we're in control, we are. And who knows how things will look in the next quarter.

Tucker: Not us apparently.

Rumpole's brief case

Lord Falconer yesterday set out plans to cap the legal aid budget by replacing lawyers' hourly fees with a set rate for each case, designed to encourage speedier trials.

Things have been pretty quiet for old Rumpole at 3 Equity Court ever since little Charlie Falconer's legal aid reforms. Initially it was a boom time as well-heeled silks turned up their noses at the new regime but the tide turned after I made my name on the Penge Bungalow Murders case - where, without a silk to lead me, I closed the case in just three days with my audacious switch to a guilty plea. Old Justice Bullingham had set aside two weeks for the case, so I pocketed a fortnight's fees and retired to Pommeroy's bar with the change.

Some clients felt my new rapid-fire questioning was damaging their chances, but you try getting off 76 questions in 20 minutes in a City fraud trial. She Who Must Be Obeyed would struggle to match that rate.

Even work from the Timsons has dried up, after three generations of Rumpole-secured acquittals for that brood. Apparently they took a dim view of my closing speech in R v Timmy Timson. I went with "he's a nice lad and innocent too, let him off", but the jury awarded no marks for brevity and he's now serving three to five at Parkhurst. I told the Timsons that my cross-examination of the pathologist meant we'd run out of time, but they were not understanding.

Two weeks earlier I had been forced to truncate Terry Timson's evidence in chief under pressure of time. I said to him: "You do rattle on old son, the jury doesn't like it." However, he seemed to think my failure to get to his alibi might have harmed his defence. But I told him: "Time is money."

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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