The chairman of Standard Life, Sir Brian Stewart, launched a scathing attack yesterday against a group of rebel policyholders who are seeking election to the board, dismissing their complaints about the company's corporate governance as "untrue" and an "unhelpful distraction".
Paul Braithwaite, the Equitable Life campaigner, and Michael Hogan both of whom are Standard Life policyholders have been seeking election to the board to ensure members' interests are looked after in the run-up to demutualisation.
Earlier this month, a storm blew up after correspondence received by Mr Braithwaite from Standard Life suggested the chairman would be able to cast all unused policyholder votes at his discretion. Sir Brian said: "Recent speculation regarding my role as chairman in the election of directors to the Standard Life board is an unhelpful distraction and is simply untrue. It has never been the case that I could use members' votes as I see fit in the event of them casting some but not all of their votes for directors, without instructions from the member enabling me to do so. I can make it clear to members that if they only wish to cast a vote for a particular candidate I will respect that choice. Proxy voting forms will be clear on this point."
Mr Braithwaite continued to call for Sir Brian's resignation. "This is a welcome climbdown," he said. "But I think that Sir Brian and his old-guard board are discredited. He has presided over the most disastrous destruction of value in the company, and in the real world people would have been replaced for such performance."
Standard Life is planning to demutualise in April 2006. Its next annual meeting, where votes will be cast for the directors, is to be held on 26 April.