Margareta Pagano: From Cadbury to Cablegate, and beyond ...

Takeover fever marked 2010, but moves are afoot that could make it tougher for such bids to succeed

What delightful symmetry that the year should close just as it opened – with takeover fever. While the two bids in question couldn't be more different they are certainly equal in controversy.

The first frenzy was prompted by the rapacious US sliced-cheesemaker, Kraft, gobbling up one of Britain's most loved chocolate makers, Cadbury, while the second is the bid by media magnate Rupert Murdoch for the rest of BSkyB, which has been thrown open to the wolves after Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, got caught in a journalists' sting after sensationally admitting he had "declared war" on Murdoch.

The irony of the situation is almost too much to bear. The Murdoch-phobic Cable has been stripped of the power to decide on whether or not News Corporation gets the go-ahead; this now lies with the more Murdoch-friendly Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. He will be receiving the Ofcom report on the bid's impact on "media plurality" by the end of this week and will then decide whether to refer it to the Competition Commission – or not.

Whatever Hunt does now, he will find himself between a rock and a hard place. If he does allow News Corp to own all of BSkyB, he will be accused of currying favour, of returning thanks for its support of the Tories in May's election. And if he does refer, he may be accused of over-reacting and open the Government up to legal challenge.

Both Cadbury and Cablegate demonstrate the difficulties and weaknesses in the UK takeover rules. Ironically (again) it was Cable who, after the Cadbury debacle, launched the inquiry into Corporate Britain which is due to report early next year. The review covers a range of corporate governance issues, including how we could improve the rules to make it more difficult for UK firms to be taken over – and not just by foreigners. It also looks at whether there are other factors which should be taken into account, such as the long-term effects of a takeover on local employment, community and tax even – moving Cadbury to the Alps deprives the UK of around £200m in tax each year. At the moment, it's just about investors turning a quick buck. Cable's review – still taking evidence – will look closely at stopping investors from having a vote unless they hold the shares for at least six months. Such measures would certainly make it much tougher for bids such as Kraft's for Cadbury to succeed.

But there is another, more important, issue to be addressed that goes to the heart of the political difficulties and challenges surrounding bids such as Murdoch's £8bn one for the rest of BSkyB. There are three grounds on which ministers can stop a bid on public interest grounds – national security, whether it destabilises the banking system, or if it impacts on "media plurality"; a loosely defined concept by which they would have to be convinced that rival newspapers and broadcasters were at risk of closure or cuts that would damage democratic debate.

And it is this latter that has got Cable, and now Hunt, on the hop. In a world where television and the internet are more or less the same outlet, where blogging, tweeting and newspapers are now so interconnected – and cross-subsidised, it's very difficult to see how to judge what "plurality" means, and even more difficult to assess the competition which thrives without country borders. You could argue that WikiLeaks, Google and Facebook are competitors to BSkyB, as well as other more traditional media owners. That's the pertinent debate that needs to be had if the Government is to justify whichever way it decides on the BSkyB bid. Whatever you think of Murdoch's influence, this debate is bigger than he is, and needs more definition.

The question to ask is why the Telegraph didn't publish the juiciest "declaring war" bit of Cable's outburst, when, until now, like all the other media proprietors, it's been against Murdoch's bid. What do they know that we don't? We'll find out next year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick