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Words aren't cheap when it comes to Gordon Brown

SOLOMON HUGHES takes a look at how our esteemed former PM is flogging off his words of wisdom to dodgy finance companies

On October 25 Gordon Brown accepted £48,803 for a single speech to Alphametrix, a US company which helps rich people invest in hedge funds and other "alternative investments."

By November 5 the firm collapsed and was promptly sued by regulators from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) which accused Brown's new business friends of running off with millions of investors' dollars.

The Monaco Alphametrix summit where Brown was paid to speak was described as an "invitation-only networking conference."

The New York-based firm invited "private investment market participants" to invest in hedge funds and other risky products.

Alphametrix boss Aleks Kins said his business grew because it offered "a level of certainty and trust" for rich investors who were previously ripped off by fraudsters like Bernie Madoff.

According to Kins, "In the months after Madoff, our managed account platform took on approximately $1 billion in customer assets."

Having Brown speak at its Monaco conference helped to make Alphametrix look respectable.

Announcing Brown's keynote speech, Kins said: "I expect the depth of Mr Brown's economic expertise to resonate deeply with our audience."

But, even as Brown spoke, the firm was in trouble. On October 12 Alphametrix announced it was sacking its chief financial officer and admitted that it had "encountered significant cashflow issues."

Regulators demanded it pay cash back to investors.

On October 31 Alphametrix announced it was liquidating all its funds. On November 6 US regulators from the CFTC got a restraining order against Alphametrix.

The regulators said the firm had "misappropriated funds," "sent false or misleading account statements" to investors, "failed to reinvest at least $2.8 million" owed to investors and had "instead transferred the funds to its parent company."

The former PM's speech to Alphametrix is one of his many expensive speeches for the financial sector which fund his vanity project, the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown.

Brown says in the MPs' register that "I am not receiving any money from this engagement personally."

But what could be more personal for Brown than the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown - which is a vehicle for giving him a career as a "statesman" in a pale imitation of the Office of Tony Blair.

Brown is trying to project himself as the wise chancellor who helped to save the world from the financial collapse.

But in fact he was very much in favour first of the deregulation that helped lubricate financial misbehaviour, and then the bailout that rewarded the financial sector for its deregulated stupidity.

By working for Alphametrix, a firm which got in trouble with the regulators then collapsed, Brown shows he is still a soft touch for dodgy financial firms.

 

What qualifications do you need to be put in charge of the Department for Education?

Experience of running excellent schools? Good marks from inspectors?

Actually, no. At least not going by the record of David Meller, who was appointed a director of the Department for Education this June.

What you need is (1) to give money to Michael Gove's constituency party and (2) to follow Gove's cranky schools policy, even if it doesn't work out that well.

This June Gove made businessman Meller into a non-executive director of the Department for Education.

What made Gove want to appoint this man into a powerful position in charge of our schools?

On the DfE website Meller's biography describes him as boss of "the Meller Group, one of the largest luxury home and beauty suppliers in the UK."

The government website does not say that in 2009 Meller gave £1,500 to Gove's own constituency party.

In addition Meller gave £2,000 to the Harlow Conservatives in 2012 and £1,500 to the Westminster North Conservatives in 2009.

He gave another £1,000 to the Harlow Conservatives last month to help get Robert Halfon MP reelected.

Meller does have a real involvement in education as well.

He runs the Meller Educational Trust, which sponsors academy schools, so he fits in with Gove's policy.

But he doesn't always do it so well.

The latest Ofsted inspection of a Meller school covers the Hertswood Academy in Borehamwood.

The inspectors say the school "requires improvement." Note that "requires improvement" is a grade introduced under Gove specifically to put pressure on schools.

Gove said that inspectors "changed the old grade of 'satisfactory' into 'requires improvement' - sending the message that every school should, at least, reach 'good,' and should be aiming even higher."

Every school except one run by the man Gove picked to sit on the Department for Education board.

The inspectors said of Meller's Hertswood Academy that it had not been rated "good" for a number of reasons, including the fact that "students' achievement by the end of Key Stage 4 [had] not been good enough for some time."

The inspectors also noted that "disabled students and those with special educational needs achieve less well than other students in the academy." The 2011 inspection of Meller's Bushey Academy gave a similar low mark. It described the school as "satisfactory" - the grade Gove has replaced with "requires improvement."

Inspectors did say the Bushey Academy was getting better. In fairness, the 2011 inspection of Meller's Harefield Academy found the school was "good" - the second-best possible mark.

These results aren't bad, but they aren't very impressive either. They don't particularly show that Meller has any kind of magic touch. But he is a Tory-supporting businessman, so his high-level appointment is no surprise.

By giving his friend this job, however, Gove has created real conflicts of interest.

Meller's Educational Trust is being given more schools. He will partly be in charge of the new Elstree University Technical College - a school based on the film industry in north-west London that is meant to be a Fame-style performing arts college.

However, given his powerful role on the board of the Department for Education, can civil servants be expected to really rigorously examine his bid for more schools control?

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