It's hard to know what to make of Lord James of Blackheath's bizarre speech in the House of Lords on Monday night, in which he said that he'd been approached by an anonymous and unfeasibly wealthy international organisation, Foundation X, which was offering billions of pounds to the British state to help it through the financial crisis. Mention of the Vatican's gold reserves and laundering money for the IRA under the approving eye of the Bank of England didn't make his story sound any more plausible. It's been suggested that he's either 'barmy' or the victim of a particularly audacious hoax. The situation he describes has been compared to the plot of a novel by Robert Ludlum, Dan Browne or John le Carré. But as with many conspiracy theories (or at least the interesting ones), beneath the curlicues and false arches there's a foundation of hard, rather prosaic fact. It's no secret that in the 1980s and 1990s, the government sold off a fair whack of the nation's assets to private and/or international buyers. Foundation X may not exist, but Tata Steel, Stagecoach and EDF most certainly do. Not that they've been much help to the British state, but then you can hardly expect a Tory peer to acknowledge that.