Barry: I don’t rate this credit lark

I RUSHED to the window when I heard the news.

I RUSHED to the window when I heard the news.

On learning at the weekend that the ratings agency Moody’s had stripped Britain of its triple A status I hurried to the nearest pane of glass to witness the sky’s collapse.

But she stood unmoved, as brooding as ever, hanging over the Colne Valley like a morose grey blanket.

The sky showed no sign of impersonating an Adele song following the news that a few economists had decided the UK’s debt situation was a little worse than originally thought.

Perhaps someone had slightly oversold the dangers of the dreaded downgrade.

A run on the pound, a stock market collapse, the cost of borrowing going through the roof – weren’t all these things coming Britain’s way if some faceless bean-counters decided the UK was no longer a 100% safe bet?

Never mind that insignificant countries like France and the US had shed a Moody’s A without descending into anarchy. For Britain there would be no going back if the money men lost faith, so it had to be cut, cut and cut some more to keep them happy.

And then last Friday it happened. For the first time since before this humble columnist was born, a major ratings agency downgraded Britain.

Out went an A to be replaced by a 1. Moody’s claimed the change was necessary because it believed Britain’s economic growth would be “sluggish” in the next few years.

My heart immediately went out to the one group of people who always suffer when an impenetrable economic story breaks: TV journalists.

How do you illustrate a supposedly significant event when there are no pictures to go with it? Moody’s, being an unelected, unaccountable organisation, felt no need to put anyone forward to explain the decision to camera.

And Joe Public were no use either, as they resolutely refused to react to the downgrade with a little Northern Rock-style panic.

So the poor producers were left with nothing to do except film a few talking heads blathering on and mock up a graphic of the letter A falling over.

There was some respite for the TV types on Monday when Parliament was good enough to debate the issue.

So we had footage of chancellor George Osborne explaining to MPs that the loss of the AAA rating wasn’t a disaster after all – and also warning that the loss of the new AA1 status would be a catastrophe. It would have been nice if he had added: “And this time, I really mean it.”

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls replied for Labour and said what any good socialist would say in the circumstances – that it was an utter disaster for the Government to lose the faith of a bunch of unelected capitalists. Or words to that effect.

But neither man was good enough to tell us exactly why Moody’s verdict on the British economy should merit an emergency debate in Parliament.

Perhaps it’s unfair to single out that particular ratings agency because their rivals in Standard and Poor’s and Fitch’s Ratings have proven equally clairvoyant in recent years.

The agencies were handing out AAA and AA marks to Lehman Brothers before it collapsed in 2008. Insurance giant AIG was given similar glowing reports prior to going cap in hand to the American taxpayer to beg for a bailout.

And yet these same analysts who didn’t see the 2008 crash coming are supposed to be the world’s greatest gurus on Britain’s economic future.

Perhaps the downgrade is actually a good sign. If Moody’s say something’s wrong, maybe that shows that all is well.

Imagine the ratings agencies, not as behemoths who can snap governments like a twig, but as your mate in the pub who’s supremely over-confident of his ability to predict the weekend’s football results.

“QPR versus Man U, bottom against top, Rangers win all day long for me,” he says with great conviction.

“Fulham host Stoke – the men from the Potteries haven’t won away from home in ages so it’s obviously their week,” he tells you while reaching for his pools coupon.

“Arsenal against Villa, two rock-solid defences, so that’s a nil-nil if ever I saw one,” he adds.

“British economy? Looking a bit shaky. Not a good long-term bet like, say, Lehman Brothers. Knock an A off I reckon.”

 

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