Petty bureaucracy is the bane of many business leaders’ lives and Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, can sympathise.

He was planning to tell his audience at the Mansion House on Wednesday night about a letter he had received from an unnamed government department. “Dear Mr King,” it started, “I am writing to inform you about how the changes to Crown immunity . . . in relation to planning legislation, will affect flying national flags.”

Flying the Union Jack was permitted “from a single vertical flagpole without requiring the prior express consent of the local planning authority”. But flying the European Union flag required consent at a cost of £75, alongside “a covering letter explaining when and where you wish to fly the flag, providing details of the size of the flag and photos of the flagpole in relation to the building”.

Was dealing with all that a good use of the governor’s precious time? Answers on a postcard, in triplicate, copies to all relevant parties.

Brown flies flag too

Gordon Brown is having a very busy day on Thursday. The chancellor’s schedule is packed with all sorts of meetings which show just what a good fellow he is. First, he’s chairing a breakfast-time seminar about teaching British values in schools, then about lunchtime he’ll be solving climate change alongside his friend Al Gore, the former US vice-president, before introducing a teatime showing of Gore’s new global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Then it’s on to the Imperial War Museum to celebrate the work of our veterans, this ahead of our first Veterans’ Day next Tuesday. Brown has often mentioned that we need another bank holiday, and it is widely thought that in the fullness of time,

if all goes to plan, he will be in a position to introduce one, and that he will choose Veterans’ Day. For someone so keen on Britishness, he is rather fond of Americanisms. We already remember our war heroes every year in November, on a day that falls in a period of the year that is a bank holiday wasteland. Why not pop a new one in then?

Enough already

Meanwhile, yet more spinning from Brown’s aides and from those of David Cameron, Conservative leader, over which is the bigger footie fan, after both went to the England v Sweden game on Tuesday.

First, we have Brown accused of sitting in a box while Cameron mucked in with the true fans in the stands. In return, it is pointed out that Cameron got his ticket from his friends at ITV and, what’s more, flew to Germany in a private jet, while Brown went by train. Next we get accusations that Brown’s train ticket was paid for by the taxpayer.

Boys, boys, stop squabbling, or Nanny will take the ball away.

A welcome awaits

We’re always hearing about the prison crisis: too many inmates, not enough cells, so we need a massive expansion of prison capacity. Well, why not solve it the way the universities have? They take in foreign students, charge them exorbitant fees and use the money to subsidise education for growing numbers of British students.

Prisons could adopt the same idea. Some countries take in others’ nuclear waste, we could take in their criminals.

Take that Charles Taylor, for instance. If the former president of Liberia is found guilty in the court in The Hague, where’s he going to serve his sentence? A nice British prison, as suggested, would be ideal.

There must be plenty of scope for international criminals to be housed here, and those who have clung on to some of their ill-gotten gains could even be expected to pay for the privilege of a single cell with en suite and television.

Now, of course, the prison service would have to tighten up on its unfortunate habit of letting people out either too soon or by mistake but once that slight performance failure is cleared up, a marketing campaign could begin. And the whole idea would even be good for the balance of payments, adding to those mysterious “invisible” earnings we rely on. There we are, problem solved.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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