A system whereby tipsters are forbidden from dealing in shares is a bit like getting eunuchs to write sex manuals
As an old share trader once said to me: "The market's stronger than goat's breath." It's very difficult to walk anywhere in London these days and not meet someone with a dot com business plan and an imminent flotation. This is no longer an Internet bubble: it is a gambling maelstrom, the like of which we will never see again. After a while, the mania becomes tiring - too many new companies, too many brilliant schemes, too many fresh millionaires and fabulous futures. Risk has all but disappeared from the vocabulary - you can get rich without the profit motive! All this excitement about a technology where the only currently profitable activities are pornography and selling shares. God knows how it will all end, but the after-effect must surely be the worst financial hangover of all time.
The bulletin boards and City sections of the newspapers are stoking the flames of the inferno. Outrageous and extraordinary things are appearing online and in print, written by both amateurs and professionals. As Alexander Pope wrote about the South Sea Bubble:
"Statesman and patriot ply alike the stocks,
Peeress and butler share alike the box;
The judge shall job, the bishop bite the town,
And mighty dukes pack cards for half-a-crown.
See Britain sunk in lucre's sordid charms . . . "
It seems certain that financial journalists have also been plying the stocks. Such behaviour is neither new nor surprising. Indeed, I would not be amazed if at least 50 of our financial journalists dabbled in the market on a regular basis. After all, they write about overnight millionaires all day - the temptation to try one's hand must be overwhelming . . .
What is perhaps surprising is that the Sun and other newspapers should be putting such efforts into destroying fellow journalists. I suppose it is right and proper that journalists should not be immune from investigation: but I wonder who in the glamourous media world really has no dark secrets? The rules on these things are odd. A system whereby newspaper tipsters and broking analysts are forbidden from dealing in shares is a bit like getting eunuchs to write all the sex manuals. In truth, the job of a financial journalist has become harder than it used to be. There are far more ways to disseminate information now - more newspapers, more magazines, more radio, much more television, and a host of online news services. So the endless struggle for a scoop becomes ever harder. No wonder they want to ruin the careers of their rivals.
It is ironic that I should be writing a diary for the New Statesman, a publication my father once edited. He was then a socialist, whereas I am a capitalist. But then everyone's a capitalist these days - but with a caring side, too.
I attended a BBC debate about "fat cats" recently, and two things became apparent - that the phrase has become irrelevant, and that it was all the younger people in the audience who want to GetRichQuick.com. They had no shame about greed and material advancement. The age of the salaryman is dead - everyone wants equity and options. No one wants to be a pop star or footballer any more - they want to be e-millionaires. During my father's time at the Statesman, students marched against the Vietnam war - now they are too busy with a web project.
There is a long line of journalists-turned-media entrepreneurs, like Sir Keith Murdoch and Sir Alfred Harmsworth. In the new economy, journalists are better placed than ever to build their own businesses. But I fear some hacks will never understand entrepreneurs. To switch from their regular diet of cynicism, resentment and carping bitterness will be more than they are able to manage. They will never comprehend the mad optimism and adrenaline rush that any new enterprise requires. Perhaps they prefer to sit back and criticise, pretending to be artists, rather than participate. More fool them.
One of the best things about the restaurant trade is that going out for a meal cannot be done online. The most exciting moment in the business is when you open the doors of a new restaurant. Mishaps are guaranteed. I remember the launch party of the first PizzaExpress in Dublin: there was a single loo for about 500 guests. Everyone was too drunk to mind, though, and it has been a huge success ever since. This week Belgo Group opens a smart new pizzeria in Parson's Green called Strada, and I went to a trial run. Despite a couple of hiccups, the chaos and bustle of a busy restaurant is intoxicating, and watching a run-down old building turn into a buzzing rendezvous is as good as it gets.
Most days on my e-mail I get a new e-commerce business plan. They all show initial losses and then vast profits after a couple of years. It would be fun to receive one that was rather more honest, and showed the business going bust after nine months.
Wait a minute - now I'm beginning to sound as negative as a professional journalist . . .