Blair's trail baffles the pundits


Tony Blair's royal walkabout at the Confederation of British Industry barn dance had Walworth Road watchers puzzling over the political message behind it.

Meandering around the exhibitions, the Labour leader's visit to the Rover stand (proprietor BMW) was swiftly followed by one to the Engineering Employers Federation, the Department of Education and Employment, British Rail's London development unit and a firm of consultants. All standard stuff.

But then came the Royal Society of Sculptors (flogging sculpture to business) and Lambeth Council, which has set up shop with the Brixton Project. Heather Rabatts, chief executive of Lambeth, once the looniest left council, was braving the lion's den with Bernadette Marjoram, chief executive of Brixton Challenge.

Then it was to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' butterfly conservation project stand, (seriously, they're raising money from business) before saying hello to the British American Business Council, the Volunteer Reserve Forces and a brief word with Michael Perry of Unilever on the way out. Make of it what you will.

Robustly defending his controversial deal with BT's Sir Iain Vallance to provide public access to the information superhighway Mr Blair was rudely interrupted by the inevitable mobile telephone, which jangled into life somewhere in the audience.

"That may be the chairman of BT on the phone there - I hope I got this right,'' quipped Mr Blair.

Another myth shattered. Barings, the merchant bank that once turned down a potential employee "because his tie looked too complicated'' reveals that it is not the Oxbridge enclave that has been thought. Three-quarters of the bank did not go to the universities, a Barings source claims, offering the clearest indication as to why the Cazenove talks failed.

Now safely in the bosom of the Dutch, the bank intends to introduce the most efficient, low-cost settlement system ever. One was under the impression that it had already achieved this - they don't come much cheaper than Nick Leeson's one-man settlement system.

Much admired by executives visiting the West Coast (it has a fax machine in every room) there has nevertheless been something not quite right about the Beverly Prescott Hotel. And we are not talking about the Jerry Garcia suite, which houses some of the musician's drug-induced works of art. Rather it is the frequent appearance of guests who look like they have been subjected to unspeakable violence.

All can be revealed at last. According to local taxi drivers the sixth floor of the hotel houses a rehabilitation wing for patients recovering from cosmetic surgery.

To the King's Road tonight for cocktails with Victor Ubogu, the rhinoceros of a bon viveur, who plays rugby for England. The 16-stone forward has persuaded City Index to sponsor his sports bar, Shoeless Joe's, in return for allowing spread betting into his emporium. The financial bookmakers are particularly excited by this initiative. City Index text screens will provide constantly updating betting prices while revellers watch live matches on the bar's Super screen.

Mr Ubogu is inviting the touring South Africans to turn up ahead of Saturday's international against England - presumably on the grounds that if we don't beat them on the pitch we can at least ruin them financially.

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