Personal Finance: Nic Cicutti column
Saturday 09 January 1999
Little guy takes on big guy. Big buy batters little guy. "Stay down or you'll get hurt bad," he warns. Little guy gets up and gets battered again. This goes on until either the little guy succeeds (the big guy is very tired) or wins respect for not giving in.
The above scene came to me this week after reading that Michael Hardern, the former butler and one-track-minded campaigner for building societies to demutualise, is to relaunch a campaign to put a resolution - identical to the one narrowly defeated by Nationwide members in July - to this effect on the agenda at seven societies.
Portman, Britannia, Leeds & Holbeck, Skipton, Chelsea and Yorkshire are studying his proposals. Coventry appears to have escaped - Mr Hardern couldn't raise enough signatures.
His new intervention follows the decision by another campaigner, Stephen Major - a plumber from Lisburn, County Antrim - to trigger a vote among Bradford & Bingley members on the same subject in April.
It would be easy to suggest that because Nationwide rejected demutualisation, Bradford & Bingley will do so. But the Nationwide carpetbaggers will be out in even greater numbers at Bradford & Bingley. Its membership, after all, has doubled since 1995, and it is a fair bet that not all are loyal defenders of building societies.
As it happens, I am a member. I joined to get the best rates available on a particular account, and it has consistently outperformed similar accounts available from the high street banks. In common with Bradford & Bingley borrowers, I have done well with mutuality.
I will be voting against Mr Major in April. What annoys me, however, is not so much that he and Mr Hardern are exercising their right to put the issue to the test, but the ease with which they can do so.
It only takes 50 members to put an issue on the agenda or to stand for election to a mutual's board, which may seem democratic - until you realise that Hardern and co can disrupt a society for months.
When "ballotitis" strikes, a society has to close new accounts for fear of letting in more carpetbaggers, diverting the energies of staff and costing millions of pounds in lost returns.
The Treasury refuses to intervene, arguing that it is not there to protect societies against the will of their members. But this is about more than simply defending "democracy": it is about allowing a vitally important arm of the UK's savings and mortgages movement to operate unhindered by constant interruption and to allow honest competition to continue between societies and banks.
All it would take is to raise to 500 the number of members needed. Even a 100 minimum might prevent the frivolous Mr Hardern from forcing societies like Leeds & Holbeck to demutualise (how would such a titchy outfit survive as a bank?).
If defeated in April, I hope that the little guy doesn't get up again.
Life & Style blogs
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
A nap a day could save your life
Windows 10 automatically sends parents detailed dossier of their children's internet history and computer use
The antidote to Tinder? Majority of dating app users want relationship, rather than hook-ups, study finds
The truth behind who really buys sex dolls, from the man who makes the most realistic ones you can buy
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
- 1 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 2 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...
£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...
£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...