Bunhill: August is the month for conspiracies

AUGUST is upon us and death, plague, famine and pestilence stalk the land. These grim forces have been unleashed because of Gordon Brown's reckless injection of pounds 57bn into the public services, which in turn will force the tormented souls at the Bank of England to raise interest rates again some time this month.

Or so said the Item Club, the elite panel of independent economists sponsored by the accountancy firm, Ernst & Young, in its damning verdict on the Chancellor's spending package. Except it didn't say that: what it actually predicted was that the Bank would "sneak" a quarter per cent rate rise in August while people were on holiday.

Now I must admit I'm something of an anti-conspiracy theorist. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F Kennedy, that Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, and that Paul McCartney really did write Mull of Kintyre. This makes me the most gullible person in the land, so if I'm sceptical of the following hypothesis, readers will rightly judge that it confirms me as a hopeless ingenu.

The scene is a meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee in Threadneedle Street. The Governor of the Bank, Eddie George, is standing in a huddle with his fellow MPC members. There are no phones in the room, the fixtures and fittings have been checked for bugs, and the whole building has been thoroughly sound-proofed. Mr George is speaking in a whisper to his colleagues:

"I think we should raise interest rates."

"Can't hear you, Eddie."

(Slightly louder) "I said, I think we should raise interest rates."

"Speak up, guv."

"I SAID, LET'S RAISE INTEREST RATES!"

"SSSHH!"

"It's OK, I don't think anyone noticed; they're all on holiday."

No, you're right, the MPC really would be that sneaky because everyone's backs are turned during the summer and you can get away with anything. So the President of America can rest assured that no one will hear the full details of his alleged dalliance with Monica ... Monica ... sorry, I've just come in off the beach and I'm not up to speed on this one.

It should not be inferred from the above that the Item Club's anxieties are an axis short of the full graph. As it points out, the Chancellor is playing a dangerous game because his three-year public spending round will stoke up demand and overheat the economy. Interest rates, it claims, will climb and 500,000 will be added to the jobless total. Forget that much of the momentum for wage inflation has been supplied by spiralling private-sector salaries, the surreal science of economics states that if you want to keep down unemployment, you've got to keep down employment. This is how it happens: "I'm pleased to say you've succeeded in your application, Mr Job Seeker, here's your P45."

In which case, if it is held that the minimum wage will lead to job losses, shouldn't that be good? I don't know. All I would say with some confidence is that if Franz Kafka was to be reincarnated, he'd come back as an economist.

ON PAGE 7 of this section we discuss a report by Dragon International, the corporate identity consultancy, called "Brands for New Britain". The survey, compiled after interviews with six "focus groups", established positive values for our rebranded nation like "modern", "fair" and "tolerant" and then asked how companies met expectations. Some of the findings make interesting reading.

For instance, in the "Definitely New Britain" category is Ikea, which is definitely New Britain because it's Swedish. Also "Definitely New Britain" is Pret a Manger, which is definitely New Britain because it's got a French name. But "Definitely not New Britain" is Nestle, which is definitely not New Britain because it's Swiss.

There is a bizarre logic here, I'm sure. After all, some of our leading football teams are so New Britain they've hardly got a British player between them. But one company that will be particularly disappointed to find it is "Definitely not New Britain" is Heinz, which spent a fortune on a series of TV advertisements set to South African township music. Quite justifiably, Heinz will protest that if New Britain is not in Soweto then just where do you have to go to find it?

FA Cup goes French

DEFINITELY New Britain, however, is the insurance giant AXA - it's French. But that hasn't stopped it grabbing a slice of Old Britain in the shape of the FA Cup, the showpiece football tournament that it will now sponsor for the next four years.

AXA has some strange sponsorship bedfellows because the backers of the other domestic football competitions are Carling and Worthington. Then again, though, there's nothing the modern-day fan likes better than a few drinks, a bit of a sing-song, and a life insurance policy.

AXA is already well known in British sport because it sponsors the Sunday League, which has come to be known as "pyjama cricket" because of the players' garish clothes. I fear this will set a precedent and that AXA and Sky Sports will combine again to bring us pyjama football. Keep an eye on David Beckham, then: he'll be trading in his sarong for a neglige.

AMID all the fuss about the sale of Rolls-Royce and the best of British going overseas, it's interesting to note that Unilever is doing things the other way round. The Anglo-Dutch giant has acquired the Shanghai Huanan Laocai Food Industrial Company and will now be selling soy sauce ... to the Chinese.

You can just imagine the reaction to this Eastern version of taking coals to Newcastle: there'll be some Chinese Alf Garnett moaning: "They've sold our bleedin' 'eritage down the river." Or maybe they'll welcome this rich addition to the country's cultural life and ethnic mix. Definitely New China.

Seeking a stinker

RENTOKIL Hygiene writes to inform us of a great new competition. The company wants people to spill the beans on whiffy work washrooms so it can go in there with its Pure Air Unit - a "state-of-the-art smell eradicator".

Staff who wish to unburden themselves can contact Rentokil Hygiene on 0800 227744, or better still, write to Bunhill, preferably in graphic detail.

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