Hard labour for the Tories' champions


Patrick Tooher
Saturday 13 April 1996 23:02

NEWS that a dozen leading businessmen have given pounds 100,000 to puff the Government's economic policy in a glossy brochure had Bunhill dusting down his ancient abacus. Surely the companies they run must be among the biggest beneficiaries of the strong, successful modern economy whose virtues they are extolling?

My computations covered the share price performance of these companies over the past two years measured against a rising stock market. And what a mixed bag they are! Top of the form is Sir Stanley Kalms, chairman of Dixons, whose shares have more than doubled. Dieter Bock at Lonrho and Barrie Stephens of Siebe also turned in creditable performances. But what are we to make of poor old Sir Nigel Mobbs, chairman of Slough Estates (down 30 per cent), Lord Sheppard at Grand Met (down 24 per cent) and Nigel Rudd's Williams (down 31 per cent)?

The booby prize, though, goes to none other than Lord Hanson. His Hanson conglomerate may have been the most generous of donors to Conservative Party coffers down the years, but such largess has brought few rewards to shareholders who have seen the value of their investment dwindle in relative terms by 38 per cent in the past couple of years. Hanson, you my recall, is in the process of breaking itself up. At least it is being true to the principle of living - and dying - by the free market it has championed for so long.

TALKING of the stock market, my attention is drawn again to the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award. Past winners like Sock Shop's Sophie Mirman and Pineapple's Debbie Moore did not exactly go on to greater things. Indeed, the prize may even be a bit of a poisoned chalice - like the Guardian's Young Businessman of the Year. The shortlist for this year includes only two women executives from quoted companies. So if either Rosalyn Wilton, from Reuters, or Mary-Lorraine Hughes, managing director of Portmeirion Potteries, walks off with the bubbly next month, you know which shares to avoid.

Greed is not good

AN amusing tale reaches me from Germany where BBC economics editor Peter Jay went to interview Chancellor Helmut Kohl for tomorrow night's Panorama programme on the future of Europe, ominously entitled "Britain's Waterloo".

Mr Jay, formerly Our Man in Washington, was honoured to be received by the Chancellor in his home town of Oggersheim. Previous recipients of such hospitality have included Boris Yeltsin, Francois Mitterrand and Lady Thatcher.

While waiting for the Chancellor to arrive at the appointed restaurant, hunger got the better of Mr Jay and his production acolytes. A slap-up meal was being wolfed down when the Chancellor's entourage turned up, led by a blonde vision of Teutonic womanhood otherwise known as Mr Kohl's personal assistant.

Without so much as a "Guten Tag, Herr Jay," she bounded over to his table, produced a napkin, and preceded to remove the remnants of the meal which were liberally deposited about his mouth. Other adjustments to his personal appearance and attire were made before Mr Jay was deemed presentable for his audience with the German leader.

THE ineptitude of cable companies at marketing themselves knows no bounds. Travelling the other day on the Docklands Light Railway that sucks worker bees into Bunhill Towers, I was struck by a series of adverts featuring a motley collection of rabbits, puppies and dolls.

Closer inspection revealed them to be part of a promotion for Bell Cablemedia, a cable television company. A nest of Russian dolls was easily explained by the caption: "Our telecoms solutions give your business room to grow". The doe-eyed hound holding a red receiver in its mouth was trickier to work out, though the accompanying slogan, "Your calls follow you around", may have something to do with the introduction of number portability. But the use of three fluffy bunnies chatting on the blower - "Now you can all rabbit at once" - is a huge howler. The last time a rabbit was invoked to flog phones, the eponymous service promptly went belly up.

Bad timing

THE British music industry is not normally associated with violating human rights, unless you believe the Music Industry Human Rights Association (Mihra). The pressure group is campaigning for a better deal for the thousands of young musicians and composers who it says are at the mercy of a "cartel" of international record conglomerates.

To redress the balance, Mihra wants Thorn EMI, one of the "cartel" members, to donate studio time to impoverished performers. Mihra is urging supporters to buy Thorn's shares in order to put its case at the company's AGM this summer. Alas, Mihra's timing is awry. Shareholders will have other things on their minds - like voting on the minor matter of Thorn's planned pounds 8bn demerger.

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