Bunhill: Nice try, Gordon, but fat cats can't give up cream

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The Independent Online
IN THE week when Gordon Brown urged his Cabinet colleagues to set an example to the nation by exercising pay restraint, it was good to see that his message has hit home.

No sooner had he reiterated his warning that high wage rises today lead to high interest rates tomorrow than Incomes Data Services released the findings of a survey showing that Britain's top earning chief executives last year enjoyed slimline pay rises averaging 18 per cent.

This came on top of a report from William M Mercer, the consultancy, revealing that base salaries for chief executives have gone up by a low- calorie 23 per cent since 1995, against average wage inflation of 15 per cent. Executive bonuses, meanwhile, were awarded at an emaciated average rate of 56 per cent of salary last year.

Tim Melville-Ross, director-general of the Institute of Directors, defended the figures with the classic two-wrongs-make-a-right line that executives are "star performers" who stand comparison with Premier League footballers - an argument that might at least have something going for it if they had short careers and cruciate ligament injuries were rife in the boardroom.

Whatever anyone thinks, though, British directors will continue to pocket big pay rises - William M Mercer warns that executive remuneration doesn't yet match rates in the US - and they will continue to pontificate about the dangers of high interest rates, public spending packages, the national minimum wage, etc, as if their salaries were unconnected with the economy at large.

So nice try, Gordon, but give your colleagues their 16 per cent pay rise and chuck in a free mansion, Tuscan villa and private jet apiece. It will make no difference.

THE FOODIES are at it again. You might have thought it couldn't get any worse after nouvelle cuisine, detoxification diets and entreaties not to eat carbohydrates and proteins at the same time. In those dark days, you might even have considered rebelling against the diktats of the food fascists by going on hunger strike. However, it isn't over until the fat lady sings (I bet she doesn't eat bean sprouts) and news emerges that the latest craze sweeping the US is a phenomenon known as "nutraceuticals".

The term, as it implies, is a cross between nutrition and pharmaceuticals, and is used to describe foods and drinks that contain life-enhancing ingredients. One leading exponent is Yakult, the fermented milk drink, which uses a lactic acid bacterium and is claimed to help protect the digestive system against the threat of cancer. Other examples of nutraceuticals include margarines that are said to reduce cholesterol levels.

In many ways, products like these are only an extension of the labelling we see all the time on standard shopping items now that health has ravished hype. For instance, packets of Kellogg's Frosties used to bear the slogan, "They're Grrrr ... eat!"; now they say "supercharged with extra B1, Niacin and B6" - ingredients, among other things, that help release energy from carbohydrates and maintain healthy blood and skin. However, nutraceutical products make specific claims and what Kellogg's has not done is to say "Frosties makes you run faster" or "save your sofa from the scourge of dead skin with Frosties".

British organisations such as the Food and Drink Federation and the National Food Alliance see dangers in the growth of nutraceuticals, and they have teamed up with other bodies to draft a code of practice. Areas of particular concern are that health claims must be demonstrable, and that all benefits should be put in the context of an overall diet. An unacceptable slogan, says the FDF, would be "low-salt candy floss is good for the heart".

None of which may cause too much soul-searching in the US, a country with an outsize obesity problem that it combats not by abstinence but by consuming food and dietary products in equal measure. Americans, in other words, like to have their cake and eat it and this sets up a fascinating new range of nutraceuticals.

So my thanks to Rudi Lewis, in London, who suggests oysters impregnated with Viagra, and to my colleague Iain Millar who has come up with an instant hangover cure: beer spiked with headache tablets. Moving on from here we could have calcium-rich chocolate that protects your teeth against chocolate, or even cigarettes infused with expectorant. But perhaps the simplest solution is the tried and tested one: gorge yourself on double sausage, beans, three rashers, two fried eggs and two fried slices ... and offset it all with a crisp green salad.

Putting it all in perspective is the comedian Jo Brand, who once recalled the apartheid days when shoppers went through crises of conscience over whether to buy South African fruit. Personally, she said, she just skipped the fruit section altogether: "No calories, no f------ point!"

Morality tale

AMERICANS - crazy people, crazy stock market. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Among the President's many preoccupations as Monica Lewinsky goes into detail about the nature of their relationship is the drag on share prices caused by his possible impeachment. So far, though, this has been counterbalanced by the support of the US population, who give him a higher approval rating than ever.

But the honeymoon may soon be over. The latest twist, we are told, is that in standing by their man Americans are speaking not from their hearts and minds but their wallets. More than 50 per cent of the people own shares, and they are happy to proclaim that the President's private life is his own business as long as their investments perform well. If they fall too far, however, then Mr Clinton will become a villain and a vengeful public will demand he reveals all - well, nearly all. It is an odd sort of morality tale when personal integrity becomes a function of the economy, but then again the value of morals can go down as well as up.

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