OECD learning to water down the wine with beer

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The French do these things so much better. Jean-Claude Paye, who is stepping down as Secretary General of the OECD, held a delightful lunchtime reception in Paris yesterday for journalists.

The assembled hacks were in town for the annual OECD shindig, and were treated to smoked salmon snacks and Chateau de la Muette, a charming little wine named after the Parisian chateau in which the reception was held, in the Sixteenth Arrondisement. Don Johnson, a Canadian, is due to succeed Monsieur Paye in the top slot.

One senior hack who has seen many of these functions mused yesterday that there are two types of people in the OECD: wine drinkers and beer drinkers.

The wine drinkers favour Gallic-style protection and state control of the economy; the beer drinkers prefer Anglo-Saxon free trade and deregulation.

Mr Paye, as a Frenchman, had started off at the OECD as a confirmed dirigiste wine drinker "but had added a lot of water to his wine over the years", said the hack, and could even tolerate sips of laissez-faire beer towards the end.

The City was gasping yesterday as rumours spread that Neil Collins, City editor of the Daily Telegraph, is in the running to succeed the deposed Michael Lawrence as chief executive of the London Stock Exchange.

Mr Collins fanned the flames, saying: "I couldn't possibly either confirm or deny this story." If he does get the job, however, he faces a dilemma. Mr Collins wrote on the day that Mr Lawrence was pushed out that "from now on, this job will carry danger money".

On the other hand Mr Collins has also consistently hammered companies and organisations that hand out over-generous packages to chief executives. We await with keen anticipation news of Mr Collins's "golden hello" and platinum parachute.

Look around your office and you will probably see an annual ritual; the first sniffles of hay fever sufferers. You may even be a victim of this seasonal allergy yourself.

How appropriate then that ofessor at Kings College, London, has just publicised a possible cure for hay fever and many other allergies, including asthma, eczema and food poisoning.

Pharmaceutical companies - and punters who invest in them - will be interested to know that Dr Brian Sutton has yet to clinch a deal with a company to start clinical tests on this revolutionary drug, which surpresses allergic reactions.

Professor Sutton said yesterday: "We are talking to one company in the US and one in the UK. Clincial trials would take around five years before this could come to market."

Even so, the potential market is huge. Glaxo sells pounds 156m-worth of its Beconase anti-hay fever nasal spray a year. Eager drugs companies can contact Professor Sutton at Kings College's Randall Institute off London's Drury Lane.

The row over the size of the debt write-offs at Railtrack got so heated at one point that one Government minister issued a semi-public threat to chairman Bob Horton - that he "wouldn't get his K if he went on like this".

In other words that he wouldn't get a knighthood. This is particularly cruel since Mr Horton was removed from BP before the traditional knighthood for that job arrived.

The Railtrack float has been so successful, however, that this time we expect the coveted knighthood is in the post.

Hundreds of City people involved in selling the Railtrack issue partied in SBC Warburg's City office last night after the highly successful day's trading. Wags asked whether the investment bankers had invited Clare Short, shadow transport secretary, to the celebrations, since she had contributed so much to the Railtrack prospectus?

The Labour Party took over three pages to explain to potential investors how it would regain control of the trail network when it came to office. The answer from an adviser last night was a curt "no. This is just for people who helped to sell the issue".

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