Now they can say it – this is a criminal operation

28 06 2012

Something changed yesterday.

The political and media establishments caught up with everyone else.

Yesterday, they went after the banks. Not the bankers. Not their bonuses. The banks. Perhaps they didn’t realise how far they were going. But it’s too late. The entire structure and nature of Britain’s investment banking sector is now on the table, whether Fleet Street and Westminster like it or not.

Overnight, a byword for malpractice

When the banks crashed the economy in 2008, many people took one look and said, “enough is enough”. Politicians took one look and bailed them out. Journalists took one look and hailed the politicians for “saving the world”.

Yesterday that changed.

At the heart of the latest scandal to engulf the London-based investment banking sector lies one simple word – impunity.

It’s not rocket science. If you give anyone large sums of money and power, allow them to hide from view, and let them – no, encourage them – to do as they please with no rules, no limits, no boundaries and no checks and balances, there is a very good chance they will run riot.

For the best part of ten years, investment bankers – and the heads of some retail banks, such as Northern Rock – lent recklessly, traded recklessly, and operated with total disregard for the financial safety of their institutions and the wider economy.

When it all went south, nobody in Britain was prosecuted. Those senior figures that were forced out got massive payouts. The banks were bailed out by taxpayers. Bonuses continued unchecked. Party time resumed in the City of London while the rest of the country suffered. I can skim over the details – everyone knows the score. It is the definition of impunity.

In September 2007, the governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, warned that bailing out Northern Rock might create “moral hazard”, where banks felt they could get away with irresponsible practices, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer would bail them out. The banks attacked him for dragging his heels. The chancellor, Alistair Darling, considered firing him. Sir Mervyn relented in short order, and Darling cooked up a botched nationalisation that could end up losing the taxpayer billions of pounds.

Scene from an investment banking graduate training scheme. Perhaps.

Look at that date. September 2007. Right up until 2009, Barclays was rigging Libor, potentially pushing up the cost of borrowing for millions of people. Did Barclays executives start rigging Libor because Northern Rock was bailed out? Of course not – the Libor rigging predated the bailout.

But did they think they could get away with it? Clearly. Did they feel anyone was watching? Clearly not. Did a culture of “anything goes” prevail in the City of London after the bailouts, with swaggering City whizz-kids confident that nobody could touch them? Well, look at those bonuses. What is that telling you?

This culture of impunity, even after the financial crisis broke, was borne of the very attitudes that allowed the crisis to develop – the sanctifying of the City of London by Westminster. The bank bailouts represented the government saying to the Square Mile – we can’t make it without you. Whatever it is you’ve done, we need you to survive if we are to survive; we need you to grow if we are to grow. By tying the survival of Britain’s economy to the survival of London’s investment banks, the government was writing a blank cheque of support to the banking sector:

– the government couldn’t get back its investment in the bailed out banks without those banks achieving significant growth, meaning a return to business-as-usual

– breaking up the banks was off the table, and even separating investment and retail banking operations was kicked into the long grass

– the government wouldn’t touch bankers’ bonuses, for fear of driving them to Dubai

– the government wouldn’t force bailed out banks to increase lending to the real economy, for fear of the state encroaching on the private sector status of the banking industry

– when Tory MP Sir Peter Tapsell asked David Cameron when there would be prosecutions of miscreant bankers, the prime minister’s response made it clear he wasn’t interested in upsetting the applecart

– when all else failed, the government settled for irrelevant sideshows such as Stephen Hester’s bonus and Fred Goodwin’s knighthood as a distraction from more fundamental issues

Of course, having a party in government that is bankrolled by the financial sector is the icing on the cake.

Impunity is what got us into this mess. And impunity is what is keeping us there. Impunity, and a failure to recognise that the investment banking sector has been corrupted from top to bottom – that it has become, inherently, criminal.


Not a diamond geezer

According to the Telegraph, up to forty banks – forty banks – are thought to have been involved in rigging interest rates. In recent years UBS and Société Générale have been hit by rogue trader scandals. In the last two years the biggest swinger of all – Goldman Sachs – has paid $550m to settle civil fraud charges of misleading investors, $22m to settle charges related to insider dealing (both of these cases were settlements rather than convictions), and £17.5m for failing to provide full information to UK regulators.

Those are just the banks. The actions of UK Uncut have set off a chain that has dragged all manner of tax avoidance scams run by accountants and financial advisers into the open. Most of the key tax havens are UK territories, in an extended network with its heart in the City of London.

And these are merely the scandals that have emerged under the prevailing “light touch” regulation – the crimes that come to light in a system designed to keep them in the dark. The activities of commodities traders are largely ignored. Trillions of dollars of financial transactions are conducted “over the counter”, away from formal exchanges and any kind of scrutiny.

Not all of this took place in the Square Mile or its offshoots in Mayfair and the Docklands. But as John Snow wrote this morning:

“Evidence set before the US Congress last week claimed that the very worst of recent US banking scandals – JP Morgan for one – were hatched and executed amid what was termed the ’loose’ regulatory world of the City of London.”

Put all of this together, and it’s telling us something. This is not an industry. This is a criminal operation. Playing and scamming the system for the personal gain of the super-rich lies at its very heart. Libor-rigging isn’t an aberration of investment banking – it is investment banking. If it isn’t criminal, it should be – there’s that impunity again.

Calls are growing for a Leveson-like inquiry into the banking sector. Not before time. Questions are being asked as to why the bankers responsible have not been prosecuted via the criminal courts. Bob Diamond’s position as chief executive of Barclays is clearly under threat. The three main political leaders – still utterly in hock to the financial sector – are treading carefully, but backbenchers are restive. This is an insult too far.

There are bigger questions that must now be belatedly asked. What is the proper purpose of this country’s banking sector? What form of ownership and management is best placed to deliver that purpose? Why does the investment banking sector, which contributes a relatively small proportion of national wealth, command such a hold over awestruck politicians and journalists? What useful purpose, if any, do different aspects of investment banking serve? Where does the money it generates actually go? Where did the money us taxpayers pumped in actually go? Does it obstruct the rest of the economy? Why has London become a dumping ground for the world’s financial elite?

And most of all, why has all this been allowed to go on for so long, nearly five years after the house of cards came crashing down?


Cameron’s government spins towards oblivion

25 06 2012

David Cameron’s been prattling on about how a future Tory majority government would put everyone earning under £50k into a food blender and then add it to the O-Level Home Economics syllabus. Or something like that.


He can’t go on like this. But that won’t stop him trying.

No matter. There’ll never be another Tory government after this one. They were given one last chance by a weary and wary electorate two years ago. They blew it the moment they double dipped. People can tolerate nasty but smart. They can tolerate nice but stupid. They don’t hang around for nasty and stupid. Barring an economic miracle, this lot are finished.

So here we are. Another discredited government, spinning out dead-on-arrival policies in an attempt to seize almost hourly headlines to make it look like they’re doing … something. Because their politics graduate advisers tell them that this is what sways public opinion. As opposed to, y’know, not royally fucking things up for a change.

I’ve lived under five prime ministers. I can only really remember four. And it always ends like this.

John Major botched his way through rail privatisation while setting up cones hotlines and blathering on about back to basics. His ministers spun, plotted and shagged away behind his back. A backbench MP’s death in the throes of autoerotic asphyxiation helped whittle the Tories’ majority towards zero. And yet somehow it all dragged on until the last possible moment, when the landslide election of May 1997 put them out of our misery.

Blair’s slow demise was tortuous. The government of the country ground to a halt as he and Brown furiously spun and counter-spun, plotted and counter-plotted, in a desperate dick-swinging contest to see whether the prime minister would go at a time of his own choosing or his rival’s.

Brown’s final months saw more of the same plotting and spinning, and a succession of cheap policy initiatives and uncosted spending proposals as Britain’s economy tanked and the government broke apart without ever quite falling apart. Rivals old and new plotted and spun behind Brown’s back, though none of them had the bollocks to mount a proper challenge. The government staggered on until the last possible moment, the general election of 2010.


The Tory supernova, spewing out O-Levels on one side and housing benefit cuts on the other

This is what happens when governments die. Like a star at the end of its life, they explode in a supernova of hot air and furious energy, destroying everything in their vicinity as rival factions brief against each other and the leadership makes up policies on the spot to try and give the impression of control. They consume enormous amounts of energy trying to maintain their own doomed existence, before finally collapsing into the white dwarf beneath, spinning dizzily out of power and into irrelevance (or ministerial memoirs, as irrelevance is sometimes known).

Government for its own sake. Government for its own survival. Government at all costs. Government for no other reason than that, for its participants, the alternative is oblivion.

This futile chaos is the dankest rot throughout the canker of British politics.

The death of a government – the long death, before the cathartic final gasp of an election campaign – is unmanaged and unmanageable. Animal spirits of personal ambition and rivalry run over. Policies are dreamt up for the sole purpose of keeping leaders in office or seeing off rivals, with no thought given to the human cost. Government grinds to a halt or spins out of control. Backbench rebellions blow up and neuter themselves within the blink of an eye. Hastily announced initiatives have the lifespan of a morbidly ill mayfly.

It’s not just Cameron. It’s all of them I can remember. A dying government has no checks and balances, no palliative care. It is not mercy killed. It thrashes wildly on its deathbed and dies in an apocalyptic fit, covered in the bedsores of a thousand policy press releases.

There has to be a better way.

Backbenchers are no use here. MPs in a collapsing government never act to trigger its downfall. They know an immediate election would wipe them out. They prefer to take a punt on time healing their wounds. It didn’t work for Major’s Tories; it did work for many of Brown’s Labour ranks. Plenty of Labour MPs who would have lost in 2008 held on in 2010. Good for them. Pity that Britain’s government failed to function for the two years in between.

A solution might exist in one of the Lib Dems’ abandoned brainwaves – recall elections for MPs. It’s a shame this policy never went through, and not just for the obvious reasons. In a situation where the prime minister is mortally wounded, the cabinet is at war and the backbenchers are clinging on for dear life, it would allow voters to force the issue when enough of them felt it needed to be forced. A series of recall elections, brought by local petitions, could whittle away a small majority and eradicate a slender one. It wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – happen all the time. But it could happen when it needed to. It would have happened, I’m sure, as Major’s government staggered on grimly through 1994 and 1995. And it sure would have beaten the hell out of rail privatisation.

But no. Instead we must endure up to three more years of government as snuff movie, unless and until the Eurozone, workfare, universal credit, or some other such timebomb blows the supernova apart, destroying the levers of government and leaving behind Britain’s untreated economy spinning like a white dwarf into irrelevance.

Union leaders declare war on nobody… that’s Progress!

18 06 2012

I don’t pay much attention to Labour Party politics, for 13 years worth of reasons. But I do keep a loose eye on the unions, and in recent days this has caught my attention:

Union motion compares Progress to Militant

Progress, for those with better things to do, is a well-funded organisation on the right of the Labour Party. Essentially a think tank, it has lots of Lord Sainsbury’s money, few members, and a bit of profile as ‘outriders’ for diehard Blairites. Every so often they churn out predictable tripe about privatising everything and supporting cuts.

So far, so Labour government.


(l-r) Ed Balls, Lord Sainsbury, Ed Miliband. Supposedly.

But trade union bigwigs have now rolled their tanks onto Progress’ lawn. Paul Kenny, general secretary of the moderate GMB union, is supporting moves to “outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party”. Last week the GMB endorsed a motion to “monitor” Progress’ activities, essentially on the grounds that they support right-wing policies, oppose left-wing policies, and somewhere down the line the party leadership ends up agreeing.

In the nicest possible way – what a load of bollocks.

To the best of my knowledge, I don’t agree with anything Progress says – and nor will I defend to the death, nor even to mild inconvenience, its right to say it. But for union leaders to be wasting their time on this guff is laughable.

Labour is a heavily centralised party. There is minimal democracy. Power vests with a tiny number of people at the top. Policies are decided on by the leader and selected acolytes.

If the unions have a problem with Labour policy, they need to target the people who decide those policies. Progress, a fringe group of well-funded think tank junkies, does not decide policy. They may suggest and press for certain policies. They do not decide them. If Labour adopts Progress’ policies, it is purely because the leadership chooses to do so. Nothing else.

The man who ultimately decides policy is, of course, Ed Miliband. Perhaps they should aim their fire at him? Except that would put the unions in an awkward spot, having backed him in the leadership election under the mistaken idea that with him in charge they’d “get their party back”.

The GMB conference did see a number of motions expressing “concern” and “disappointment” at the Labour leadership, and questioning the union’s funding of Labour MPs – but there’s not much action flowing from those.

Instead, we are left with the ludicrous scenario of one of Britain’s key trade union leaders waving his willy at windmills and going to war with a motley crew of corporate lobbyists and policy wonks for supposedly brainwashing the party leadership.

Because admitting that the party leadership actually chooses these policies of their own volition – admitting that the bollocks that currently passes for Labour policy is what Balls and Miliband actually believe in – is a truth too inconvenient to take.

Greece and the Euro sideshow

17 06 2012

The wounded dinosaur.

It’s an image that is a cliché. The injured giant, thrashing wildly in all directions as it sinks inexorably to its death. Because it’s a cliché, we forget that it can be true.

The European Union is now that wounded dinosaur. An oversized, inadaptable beast with savage teeth, a bad temper, useless arms and a miniature brain, thrashing wildly in all directions as it sinks inexorably to its death.

When the Eurozone debt crisis erupted two years ago, it was immediately apparent that the game was up. There was no way that Greece was ever going to be able to repay such a mountain of debt. The banking sector debts of Ireland, Spain and the rest were insurmountable. The single currency itself could no longer be sustained in its existing form. The story of 2008, adapted and retold for 2010.

For two years the political elites of Europe – both federal and national – have gone out of their way to avoid these truths, whilst driving a brutal austerity agenda that is impoverishing millions across the continent. The EU, heralded for so long as the guarantor of democracy and prosperity, feeding its expiring body on the remnants of both.

Now, in 2012, the miniature brain has finally had an idea. Like all the most dangerous ideas, it is both clueless and compelling. It is the idea that this crisis is about the survival of the Euro.

We can see this in Greece. Sunday’s election has been cast across Europe as a referendum on Greece’s membership of the single currency. Despite the fact that all the main parties want to remain inside the single currency, the EU has decided to impose its own terms on Greece’s election.

So now a vote for Syriza, the stridently left-wing party, has been billed as a vote for the drachma. Only a vote for the discredited right-wing New Democracy party can save Greece’s membership of the Euro, they say. Syriza’s demands to radically renegotiate the suffocating bailout package, insist Brussels and Berlin (and London), are the equivalent of rejecting the bailout funds and leaving the Euro. There will be no negotiations.

It’s one of the most blatant attempts to nobble a democratic vote that Europe has seen. It’s part of a deliberate strategy to scare Greeks into voting for New Democracy. It also happens to be complete bollocks.

The Greek crisis is not about the Euro. The matter at the heart of the Eurozone crisis is the fact that the banking and resulting sovereign debts will never be repaid. They are too high. It is too much. The austerity measures designed to bring repayment are killing an entire continent’s economy. A little infrastructure stimulus, as proposed by Francois Hollande, won’t cut it. What was true in 2008 and true in 2010 is still true in 2012 – this debt won’t be repaid.

Where membership of the Euro comes in is two-fold. First, the Euro overvalues the currency of southern European nations, making export-led recovery impossible. Second, and more important, are the constraints that membership places on debtor countries’ economic policy.

Because Berlin and the European Central Bank are so intransigent on austerity, recovery within the Euro is impossible. As long as Greece is a member of the Euro, it has no choice but to follow these diktats that are crushing its economy and its society.

This is why Greece’s membership of the Euro is a sideshow in this election. It is not the case that a Greek exit will crush its economy while membership will bring its salvation. A disorganised exit will crush its economy – but so will the continued observation of the bailout terms. Either way, the result is Greek default, Greek collapse, and a full-blown crisis across Europe.

The key issue is policymaking in Berlin and Brussels. A complete transformation of the EU’s agenda could enable some kind of recovery in Greece – ditching austerity and ‘turning the taps back on’. Because the EU is set against this – and Hollande has largely fallen in line – Greece’s economic survival is at least as impossible within the Euro as outside.

On top of ditching austerity, the EU would also have to address the impossibility of repaying Eurozone banking debts. And none of this addresses the interest rate mismatch created by the single currency.

What should have happened before – and should happen now – is a controlled bankruptcy of insolvent banks, a controlled default of un-repayable debt, and a controlled Eurozone break-up to solve the interest rate dysfunction.

That word. Control. Europe’s politicians have had two years to bring control to this situation. But instead they obsessed over keeping their integrationist ‘project’ alive. So there is no control. There is only chaos. Chaos and bullying and brinkmanship, and the destruction of democracy.

And so the wounded dinosaur goes on thrashing, until the meteor hits.

Egypt – what happened last time this happened

16 06 2012

The latest fashion among foreign affairs miserablists is to write off the Egyptian revolution in the wake of the military’s machinations to hold onto (and indeed increase) its power.

As the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi gears up to take on the old order’s Ahmed Shafiq in today’s first post-Mubarak presidential election, received wisdom has it that the revolution is dead and the ancien regime is back in charge.

This is perhaps magnified by the fact that the British media doesn’t have a favoured son in this election. Most commentators in the British press are liberals, socialists, or varying shades of closet Islamophobe. Pitting an Islamist against a militarist confounds their hopes and confirms their fears.

Evidently there are serious problems, with Egypt’s military playing on fear to divide and outmanoeuvre the democracy movement. But those who write off Egypt are forgetting the lessons of recent history.

The disaster that didn’t happen 

When was Indonesia last in the news? Back in 1998-99, it was never out of the news. Foreign policy miserablism was focused squarely on the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Received wisdom had it that the country was headed for a catastrophic break-up, bloody civil war, and the rise of militant Islam.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

In May 1998, the three-decade rule of Indonesia’s oppressive dictator Suharto collapsed amidst the Far Eastern financial crisis. The shooting of student protestors triggered mass protests and widespread rioting that finally forced his resignation.


President Suharto. Not a super genius.

As Suharto went, his vice-president, BJ Habibie, was anointed into office. A man who described his old boss as ‘Super Genius Suharto’, he was the very embodiment of the old order. The promise of elections to follow failed to quell suspicions that the existing regime was seeking to renew itself.

What followed was more than a year of increasing chaos and violence. Day after day, week after week, month after month, Jakarta was the scene of mass protests demanding Habibie’s resignation and Suharto’s prosecution. From September to December 1998 there were repeated clashes between pro-democracy activists and security forces. Up to 100,000 people joined an opposition rally in Jakarta at the end of November. 

The following year saw more of the same as the authorities dallied in accepting parliamentary election results that brought an opposition victory. The government tried to pass a draconian security bill giving the military sweeping powers, and Habibie chose the controversial military chief General Wiranto as his running mate as he geared up for presidential elections in October, despite mass protests calling for him to quit.

That wasn’t all. The East Timorese vote for independence in 1999 triggered mass violence by the occupying Indonesian troops. Violence flared in separatist regions such as Aceh. The ethnic Chinese minority – which was viewed as comparatively wealthy – was targeted by violent pogroms.

Faced with growing opposition from his own side, Habibie pulled out of the presidential election at the last moment. Elections in October 1999 brought a surprise victory for ailing cleric Abdurrahman Wahid, who rapidly failed to get to grips with the country’s ethnic and economic problems. The country appeared to be falling apart.

And then… nothing.

Over a number of years, Indonesia sorted itself out. The economy stabilised and grew. Ethnic conflicts died down. The military was reformed. Democracy took hold. The expected rise of militant Islam never came, for the simple reason that voters didn’t want it. 

The country still has problems – and its fair share of dodgy clerics – but when was Indonesia last in the news?

Two-stage revolutions

Indonesia is an example of a two-stage revolution. Some autocracies are based entirely around a delusional, demi-god personality cult. All power rests with one person. Get rid of that person, and you get rid of the regime.

Other autocracies are based around faceless bureaucracies or military setups, with backseat drivers in place of strutting leaders.

Then there’s the third kind, where you have a bit of both – a high-profile front man, and then an extended bureaucracy or military behind them. All focus is on the leader, but power vests more widely. Get rid of the guy at the top, and it can seem like the work is done – but there is a whole super-structure behind him that will try and stay in place. That was Indonesia. That is Egypt. A revolution in these countries doesn’t happen all at once – there’s the first stage that gets rid of the high profile leader, and then the second stage to get rid of the regime that kept him in power. Both stages are painful and messy, and can be bloody. But once the first stage happens, the momentum generated makes the second stage inevitable.

When a wound heals, it doesn’t heal overnight. First the blood stops pouring. Then it forms a scab. It takes time for the scab to fall off. Habibie was Indonesia’s scab. Ahmed Shafiq and the military are Egypt’s. They’re irritating at first. They take some picking. But they always fall off in the end.

In the Ning Nang Nong, where Michael Gove makes sense

12 06 2012

It’s the only poetry I can remember:

In the Ning Nang Nong,

Where the cows go bong,

And the

And the… And the? I give up.

Twelve words from a Spike Milligan nonsense rhyme I used to read when I was about six. That’s all the poetry I can recite. And I can assure you that my life and my education are no weaker for it.


Hey kids, today we’re going to memorise Ovid! YAY!

Sorry kids, but Michael Gove, the “decentralising” dictator of Britain’s school system, has had another brainwave, and the result is that you’re going to have to start memorising poetry from the age of five.

Having waffled some stuff about “setting schools free” in his first few months as Education Secretary (a cover to create a privatised market in education), Gove has been bent on dictating to schools what they must teach and when ever since.

And unfortunately, that tends to amount to a pastiche of an imagined 1950s education – when, as the Daily Mail will tell you, Everything was Better.

Gove himself wasn’t born until 1967, so precisely what he knows about 1950s schooling is a mystery, but he won’t let that stop him.

So now, after Bibles in schools, teaching Latin, and forcing children to learn all the kings and queens of England, five-year-olds will now have to memorise poetry by heart. Presumably they’ll be tested on questions like, how will any of this help you in your later life?

Latin is a great example of this kind of policymaking by editorial. Open up a right-wing newspaper on any given day, and you’ve a good chance of finding a comment piece by some jumped up “intellectual” holding up Latin as the litmus test of whether British education is (a) a rigorous gold standard the world looks up to, or (b) Grange Hill.

Well I’ve got news for them.

I studied Latin. My secondary school made it compulsory in Year 7 and optional after that. Most of us took the first opportunity to ditch it for modern languages like Spanish or German. Not me. I took it to Year 9, and when selecting my GCSE subjects, it was the first on the list. Why?

Because here’s what they never tell you – Latin is a piece of piss.

Seriously. For all that the Toby Youngs and BoJos of this world want to convince you that it’s Oxbridge at age eight, Latin is a walk in the park. None of those impenetrably long German words, or that annoying French rolling of the ‘r’. Just add ‘us’ to the end of any English word, and there you have it – Latin.

It was the ultimate doss subject. After my GCSEs I made a conscious effort to forget it all. Never needed it since.

And so to memorising poetry. What precisely is this for?

Is it

a)      because it sounds ‘rigorous’ and ‘traditional’

b)      to make it seem like the government is doing something

c)      because a think tank junkie told Gove it’s a good idea

d)     a combination of all the above

e)      because children’s education will benefit from it

Well done if you said (d). Have a gold star. Detention for anyone who said (e).

Poetry, like Latin and kings and queens, harks back to bizarre fantasies over what education should be – rigorous, traditional, tedious, and useless. My GCSE English teacher – perhaps the best teacher I had – was quite open with us that in her day they’d had to memorise poetry and lists of monarchs, and that it had been a total waste of time. None of us doubted it.

There was an excellent piece by Tom Chivers on the Telegraph site yesterday. Chivers is not a political commentator, and therefore is not paid to churn out crap. Instead, he argued in response to Gove’s latest announcement that education policy should be based on considered evidence, not on fads, theories and headlines.

I couldn’t agree more. At some point I’ll write in more detail on the nonsense of British education policy, but the sum of it is that successive governments are obsessed with their own pet fads, and dictate the education (and, therefore, futures) of millions of British children on the back if it. One government has one set of theories and implements them, then another government comes in with a set of rival theories and implements those instead. Teachers are left scrambling to keep up – and then cop all the blame when things go wrong.

Schoolchildren will generally pay attention to what is interesting, or what seems useful. If something is both tedious and demonstrably pointless – like memorising poetry – they’ll soon switch off.

Well done then, Mr Gove, on failing both tests.

Update: Turns out I don’t even remember those two and a half lines of poetry – Tom Bowker in the comments confirming that it is, in fact, ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’, not ‘In the Ning Nang Nong’ (now there’s a sentence I never expected to write). I could have Googled the poem beforehand, of course – but that wouldn’t have been me remembering it then, would it?