City Diary: Andersen's political double-act

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The Independent Online
Andersen Consulting is fielding two candidates in the next general election who, if successful, will face each other on opposite sides of the House. Patricia Hewitt and Mary Macleod have been selected as prospective candidates by the Labour Party and Conservative Party respectively.

This might have embarrassed some employers, but not Andersen Consulting's UK managing partner James Hall. "Although they have different political views, they share with all of us at Andersen Consulting a real commitment to the future of Britain," he says diplomatically.

Ms Hewitt made her name as general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties, a post she held for 10 years. This week she was selected to stand for Leicester West, already a Labour seat.

Ms Macleod, on the other hand, will have to overturn Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy's 6,000 majority in Ross, Skye & Inverness. "There's all to play for," says Ms Macleod, who went to school in the constituency.

So do the two candidates swap debating points over the photocopier at work? Ms Macleod says: "I don't actually bump into her. The first time I met her was for the photo this week."

The latest joke doing the rounds in Moscow: "There is no truth in the rumours that Yeltsin is ill. He has had several meetings with Brezhnev in the past week."

A sticky moment at Sainsbury's AGM. A shareholder gets up and asks why no directors were nominated in the latest Queen's Honours list. After all, he says, you have Sir Alistair Grant at Safeways and Sir Ian MacLaurin at Tesco - why no knights on the Sainsbury team?

The chairman, plain Mr David Sainsbury, rises to reply: "There are already two former chairmen of Sainsbury in the House of Lords, and a third might look ostentatious. But I'm trying hard, and I'll report back at future meetings."

Perhaps it was Mr Sainsbury's bankrolling of the SDP in the 1980s which keeps him a commoner.

You've had inflatable Sumo wrestlers. Now prepare for Human Skittles. American Airlines is holding its annual event at the Broadgate Centre in the City, and this year 48 City teams will battle it out dressed up in giant polystyrene skittle suits. While victims pose as skittles, the other team swings a giant ball at them.

British Airways, whose plan to team up with American Airlines is being hotly debated, is also involved. Virgin's Richard Branson has not been invited to field a team, however. An American spokesman explains: "They're not based in the City."

How will the great publicist hit back, I wonder? Human clay pigeon shooting, perhaps?

Talking of Mr Branson, the Virgin boss has just awarded air stewardess "wings" to Lisa Leeson, wife of Nick, the Barings trader now doing time in Singapore. Mrs Leeson, 27, joined Virgin in the normal way and completed a six-month training course.

The job guarantees her cheap flights to visit her husband at the notorious Changi prison, where he is serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence. Nick Leeson is allowed two 20-minute visits each month, but his wife could not afford the pounds 600 return air fares from her job as a waitress in a Maidstone tearoom.

You could soon be sipping gourmet coffees from Burundi, Brazil, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and Uganda thanks to a $1m grant from the London- based International Coffee Organisation (ICO). ICO secretary Paul Dubois says people are already prepared to pay premium prices for recognised gourmet coffees like Jamaican Blue Mountain. These five countries could gain big overseas earnings if they can develop similar top brands.

This does not mean charging out and planting new crops, however. The secret is in identifying the best production techniques and areas to grow the beans, says Mr Dubois. For instance, a pound of unroasted Ecuador Arabica beans costs $1.10 on international markets, while Blue Mountain would set you back $15. Me, I'm off for a cuppa.