Under siege at the Dorchester

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The Independent Online
Chanting and mayhem at London's Dorchester Hotel yesterday as student protesters laid siege to the extraordinary general meeting of Lloyds Bank. The EGM was supposed to consider the proposed merger with TSB. But up to 20 protesters from the Lloyds and Midland Boycott Campaign hijacked it to demonstrate against Lloyds' customer, Shell, and its activities in Nigeria.

Lloyds' chairman, Sir Robin Ibbs, spent an exhausting hour fending off demands for the bank to freeze assets of the Nigerian Government. He then suggested (unwisely) that the meeting should get on with voting on the merger. Such inflammatory remarks had protesters on their feet objecting loudly and around half a dozen were thrown out by the security staff.

Sir Robin eventually won the vote. But Hugh Sims, a spokesman for the campaign, promised to keep up the pressure. "We wanted to raise the consciousness of the shareholders, '' he said. ''The meeting was a farce.''

A local disturbance was also recorded at 1 Grosvenor Place, home to the Hanson empire. US engineering unions are unhappy at demands for a 25 per cent reduction in wages in Southern Californian gravel plants and have bought their grievance to London.

"It's Christmas,'' said a spokeswoman, Kelly Candaele, "and the gift Hanson is giving is an attack on a hard-won standard of living.''

This dispute promises to get nasty. The Americans are planning a boycott of Hanson's down-market Lambert & Butler cigarettes.

While he will not threaten William Gladstone's record-breaking speech in 1853, it is likely that Ken Clarke will ramble at length this afternoon. City Index, the spread-betting specialists, are predicting the Chancellor will speak for between 84 and 88 minutes. Sporting Index offer 80 to 84 minutes.

"It's all one-way traffic at the moment,'' says a City Index man. "So far we have only seen one seller of the spread. The rest are buying.''

For the uninitiated, this means that the punters believe Mr Clark will speak for longer than the spread offered. If, for example, a punter buys the Sporting Index spread for pounds 5 a minute and the Chancellor speaks for 94 minutes then he or she wins 10 times the stake (94-84), that is pounds 50. Less than 80 minutes and it's a hole in the pocket.

This probably means the shortest Budget on record, eclipsing Benjamin Disraeli's 45-minute sound bite in 1867. As in: "I abolish all taxes ... er that's it.''

Research indicates that half the men attending this year's Christmas parties will disgrace themselves - probably in style. According to a straw poll for Elegant Days, the organiser of the City Christmas Fun Fair, over 60 per cent of men wear black ties to their office party but almost half said they embarrassed themselves and were insulting. Some 40 per cent of men said they drank so much they couldn't remember anything. And 30 per cent of men admitted kissing their secretaries with 12 per cent of women admitting kissing bosses. Someone's lying.

Our picture today demonstrates the pitiful depths to which the PR profession must sink to earn a crust. The client is Flying Colours Leisure Group, a company set up by NatWest Ventures to acquire both Club 18-30 and Sunset Holidays. The men in suits are Jeremy Muller of Flying Colours and, on the right, Alastair Gibbons of NatWest. Unfortunately the holidaymakers are the cream of Financial Dynamics, the City spin doctors, going about their everyday business.

It gets worse. The lady with the beach ball (Beaky to her friends) is destined for Blind Date.