TELEVISION / Making his mark

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The Independent Culture
IF YOU WANT to think well of yourself today and you are a British taxpayer, then reflect with modest satisfaction on your recent generous donation to the reconstruction of Eastern Europe. After all pounds 25 can't be sniffed at - not everyone, surely, would dig so deep into their pocket in these straitened times? Well, they have actually, though, like you, they are unlikely to remember this moment of altruism. This is because the money was spirited from the Treasury by George Soros, a currency trader who ended Black Wednesday a billion dollars up on the day (dollars 1,000,000,000 to you or me). This, Peter Gill had calculated, worked out at about pounds 25 for every British taxpayer, or pounds 12 for every man, woman and child.

Mr Soros, a dapper man with a sense of self-worth as crisply tailored and unruffled as his suit, is currently giving large chunks of his winnings to various projects in the East - a university here, refugee relief there, libertarian think-tanks everywhere. Running his business takes up between 10 and 15 per cent of his time, he claimed, adding, in infuriating contrast to almost everyone else on the planet, 'I find it easier to make it than to spend it'.

He makes it by speculation - speculating, for instance, that Norman Lamont was not using the conventional aperture for speech when he said that the government would not leave the ERM under any circumstances. Borrowing some 5 billion pounds Soros converted it into Deutschmarks, waited for the British government to come round to his way of thinking, then bought sterling cheap and paid back his debt. The pound went west and now it's going East.

This Week (ITV) was thrilled by him. He was, they said in the awed tones of an excited compere, the Man Who Broke The Pound (a title Mr Lamont might be able to lay some claim to) or The Most Successful Money Manager In The World. From time to time they shook off the daze of admiration to question the propriety of the whole thing but their hearts weren't really in it. They listened to Gordon Brown's reservations politely but you could sense the programme tapping its fingers impatiently, anxious to get away from this moralistic spoil-sport and back to the gambling table.

And if you felt cynical about Soros' motives you were left in no doubt that you were in pretty unpleasant company - his opponents in the East are xenophobic and anti-Semitic, his supporters secular saints like Vaclav Havel. In truth, he seemed rather likeable; honest about his coup and serene in his defence of the results. The British government should have done more to help Eastern Europe, he said calmly, he was merely redirecting the money for them. Just in case you hadn't got it, we last saw Mr Soros riding off into a Long Island sunset, the heroic loner from a financial two-reeler.