Outlook: Blair blessing

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The Independent Online
Outlook: Blair blessing

STRANGELY ENOUGH, this week's British Steel-Hoogovens merger went completely unnoticed in Downing Street. No pat on the back from Tony. No prime ministerial plaudits for a deal which is worth some pounds 3bn, affects 40,000 UK jobs and is, one assumes, just the kind of cross-border European alliance Number Ten is so keen to promote.

Not so, Dialog Corporation's little licensing agreement with Fujitsu of Japan. It has received the red carpet treatment, including a one and a half page eulogy from Mr Blair which Dialog's chief executive Dan Wagner helpfully stapled to the press release.

Number Ten seemed unaware of the letter's existence yesterday. Nor could it say how often the Prime Minister took time out from other weightier matters, like ending the Balkans war, to praise a small British company in such fulsome terms.

Let us help out. Dialog may be a tiny company whose share price has halved since it rose Phoenix-like from the ashes of Mr Wagner's previous company Maid. But it is part of the "global knowledge economy" so exulted by Mr Blair and confidantes such as Peter Mandelson.

British Steel and Hoogovens, on the other hand, are plain old metal bashers, for all their talk of delivering "metals solutions" for the world of manufacturing. To get on in life, and, more especially, to get an audience in Downing Street these days, dot.com says more about you than size ever can.

There are also one or two coincidences about Mr Blair's willingness to massage the corporate egos at Fujitsu. The Japanese company just happens to be in the middle of closing down a semiconductor plant in Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency. It also happens to be the parent company of ICL, which recently found out that public private partnerships with government are sometimes not worth the social security smart card they are written on.

Perish the thought that Mr Blair might be influenced by considerations such as these. Whatever the case, he has encouraged an awkward precedent. You can almost see the queue of businessman forming outside Downing Street asking for the Prime Minister's imprimateur on their latest deal. Now how about