Business Editor: 'Green' Cameron could end up black and blue

The new Tory leader is already on a collision course with big business
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The Independent Online

What's wrong with a Chocolate Orange? Sitting, innocently, next to the tills in a busy WH Smith, it incurred the wrath of David Cameron. Anxious to establish his health-conscious, green, man-of-the-people (so long as they're middle class) credentials, the new Tory leader launched an attack on the confectionery ball and its vendor. He suggested Smiths should sell actual oranges for busy travellers to snack on. (Have you ever tried to eat an orange on a crowded train, David?)

This attempt to steal Jamie Oliver's clothes is one of a series of rapid-fire initiatives that have come out of Mr Cameron's office in the few weeks since he won the leadership election. The former spin doctor for Carlton Communications has made it clear he will not be beholden to big business - which begs the question of whether he thinks the Tories have been lapdogs of their corporate paymasters in the past. And, with the help of Zac Goldsmith, the multi-millionaire environmentalist, he is applying a green tinge to Conservative policies.

All of this is interesting but could bring him into conflict with some core Tory supporters. Mr Cameron is concerned that Labour has stolen much of the party's clothing with the business-friendly approach initiated by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's prawn cocktail offensive a decade ago. New Labour stated it would not reverse privatisation - indeed it has added a few - and would promote private sector solutions to public problems. This painted Tory policies into a corner and Mr Cameron clearly feels he has nowhere else to go but to try to commandeer some traditional Labour ground.

But he appears to ignore the point that the Chancellor has moved Labour left in the past couple of years with higher public spending and higher corporate taxation (though, admittedly, by stealth). The regulatory burden on business has also risen. And though Mr Cameron says he will cut down on red tape, he cannot achieve many of his green objectives without compelling businesses to fall into line. Appealing to companies' better nature will get the sort of response made explicit by Lee Raymond, the outgoing chairman of Exxon, who said his prime duty was to make money for his shareholders and any other issues were secondary.

Mr Cameron's strategy will also being him into conflict with his party. This is clear in East Devon, where Hugo Swire, the local MP who has just been promoted to the Tory Shadow Cabinet, is at odds with the local (Conservative) council over plans to build an Asda superstore at a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Exmouth. Anti-development campaigners have now written to Mr Cameron to ask him to support them. Unless he opposes one of his own councils, he will risk harming his green credentials and snubbing one of his closest supporters.

Once you start unravelling these Chocolate Oranges, David, it can get messy.

Just handsome at HBOS

My female colleagues are not sure about DKW analyst James Eden's description of Andy Hornby as "good looking". But a certain euphoria surrounds the appointment of a FTSE 100 chief executive who is under 40 and yet unrelated to the company chairman.

HBOS has been praised for its succession planning, but one should be careful. Outgoing chief executive James Crosby follows finance director Mark Tucker and banking boss George Mitchell in heading off the board. Though all had good reasons for going, it's a lot of talent to lose.

On the plus side, HBOS has hired Benny Higgins from arch rival Royal Bank of Scotland. The affable 45-year-old (who must feel old at HBOS) is giving up a larger portfolio for a more dynamic place. RBS can ill afford to lose any more good people. And if Mr Crosby thinks it's time to go after six-and-a-half years at the helm, what might RBS's Sir Fred Goodwin think, now he is halfway though his eighth year?

j.nisse@independent.co.uk

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