Printed from WriteWords -

The Accidental Shareholder

by  James Graham

Posted: Saturday, September 18, 2004
Word Count: 640

I have a confession to make. For several years I've lived with a secret, something that has troubled my conscience. Now I feel the time has come to make a clean breast of things and deal with my shame as honourably as possible.

I'm a shareholder in the Abbey. It's not, I hasten to add, the fact that it happens to be the Abbey. It would be all the same if it were npower or GlaxoSmithKlineBeecham. What troubles me is the fact that I'm a shareholder in anything.

Let me offer a plea in mitigation. I used to have an account with the Abbey. On the day I opened this account I had already tried to open an account with the TSB, which at that time was 'the Bank that Likes to Say Yes'. The manager - one of the old Calvinist school of Scottish bankers - had given a quite categorical, even brutal, No to all my proposals, which for the most part had been concerned with getting money out of the TSB rather than paying into it. So I crossed the road to the Abbey, modifying my expectations as I went, and they said Yes.

Then soon afterwards came a turning-point in history. As a 'valued customer', I was to take part in a momentous vote which would decide the future of the Abbey - and who knows? the future of the free world. Two groups of candidates were running for election to the Board: one party was out to float the Abbey, like a great East Indiaman, on the Stock Exchange; the other was for keeping it mutual. It's worth noting in passing that there was more blue water between these parties than there has been between Labour and Tory for many a moon. I voted for the Mutualists. The result was no surprise, and fully consistent with a lifetime's exercise of my democratic right: I had voted for the losing party. The Floaters had won by a landslide.

The Mutualists would have preserved at least a shadowy remnant of that noble tradition which was withering even when I was young, half a century ago, and whose values I ineradicably absorbed at my mother's knee. The mutual society, the old Co-op with its choirs that sang the Red Flag, the old Labour Party before its survival-of-the-fittest Darwinian mutations. But the Floaters won.

But surprise, surprise! Even though I had voted for the dissenters, and voted too against the Special Resolution to launch the great clipper, I received 100 free shares! If I had immediately sold them and donated the proceeds to the Zapatistas, my conscience would be clear. But alas, to my lasting shame I kept them, and to this very day have continued to accept the twice-yearly dividends.

Now, however, the winds of change are blowing again. The other day I received a thing the size of a phone book, a proposal for the acquisition of the Abbey by Banco Santander. It contains about two hundred pages of money sums. Maybe I should read it as a penance. No, what I will do instead is use this opportunity to redeem myself even after so long. After the acquisition there will be a six-month period in which very small shareholders may sell their minuscule portfolios. This I have resolved to do. And I shall donate the proceeds to a deserving cause. Subcomandante Marcos, you are due for a windfall.

And if I add to that an annual donation to Amnesty International of roughly the sum of the twice-yearly dividends, I feel I shall have done my best to make amends. Maybe in the fullness of time I shall be accepted again into the ranks of the faithful - such as Richard Hoggart, that great man, who (it is said) could not pronounce the word 'executive' without disdain.