A big grin but no gloating

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The Independent Online
The Laughing Regulator was in flying form and why not? After 12 months of hand-to-hand combat with the old enemy, Clare Spottiswoode had trounced British Gas. But was she about to gloat in her moment of triumph? Would she call for the head of Dick Giordano?

Not a bit of it. She may have been wearing her trademark Cheshire Cat grin, but the director general of gas supply was the very model of magnanimity. Yes, BG had had every right to go to the MMC, even though she could have told them they were on a hiding to nothing, and no, Ms Spottiswoode did not now expect anyone to resign.

She was dressed for the occasion in orange jacket, beige three-quarter length skirt and multi-coloured floral silk scarf. A brilliant image on an equally bright morning for the forces of regulation.

But her tone was more in sorrow than anger. BG might be big but it had turned its guns on the wrong target. Instead of trying to win the PR battle, it should have spent more time winning the hearts and minds of the MMC panel. That had been the focus of Ms Spottiswoode and it had paid dividends, something that BG cannot yet promise. Not that it had been a triumph for Ofgas, of course, merely "a vindication of our philosophical approach". Now was the time to build bridges and get down to the business of delivering value for shareholders and lower bills for customers.

Over at the nearby Institute of Civil Engineers, the venue BG had chosen to present its response, the atmosphere was in keeping with the solemn marble-halled surroundings. David Varney, "the acceptable face of BG", had begun the day by being turned over on the Today programme and now he was beginning to show the strain. His regulation dark blue suit jacket cast aside in favour of the shirt-sleeves approach, BG's chief executive rattled through a largely incomprehensible guide to the MMC report and then, just as incomprehensively, declared it a score draw.

The talk was also of turning over new leaves and moving forward, not with an air of triumphalism but "with honour", recognising the MMC had created an opportunity for both sides. But had it all been worthwhile? Every bit of it. Given its time over again, BG would still have plumped for the MMC. Not that Mr Varney had got all he wanted. "You don't see me leaping for joy". We didn't Mr Varney, we didn't.