People & Business: There's no room for yesterday's men on the CBI platform

John Willcock
Tuesday 24 June 1997 23:02

Steven Norris: The nearest thing to a Tory at the CBI

Stalin's propaganda people used to airbrush away the images of disgraced politicians from official photographs. The CBI seems to be taking a similar attitude to the recently deposed government, by not inviting a single Tory politician to its annual conference this November.

How fickle is fate. Just last year Michael Heseltine tossed his blonde locks at the Birmingham bunfight, while Michael Portillo and Chris Patten helped put the government's case to businessmen.

This year the CBI's political guests include John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, David Blunkett, Employment Secretary, and Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats. The closest the CBI gets to a Tory is Steven Norris, who retired as a minister before the election. The hot-blooded Mr Norris will be speaking solely in his capacity as director general of the Road Haulage Association.

The tobacco industry may be having a bad time in the US courts, but it can still rely on First Leisure. Michael Grade, the newly installed executive chairman, kept the company's traditions intact yesterday by lighting up a huge log of a cigar during the results press conference, severely reducing visibility.

The former chairman Lord Rayne was also a big cigar smoker, as was outgoing chief executive John Conlon. Which brings us, dear reader, to the subject of Graham Coles, finance director of First Leisure, and his "secret" smoking habit.

Mr Coles was happy to light up as well yesterday, albeit with a slightly less Zeppelin-sized cigar. This despite the steadfast opposition of his wife, who sternly disapproves of smoking. Is chomping on a cigar written into First Leisure employment contracts?

I wonder what partners in the City law firm Allen & Overy will make of an article by their colleague Gordon Stewart in the latest issue of Insolvency Practitioner, the quarterly mag for receivers.

In the article, titled "Sugar & spice", the former president of the Society of Practitioners of Insolvency tells how he became so worried at his children's intake of sugar-rich Ricicles at breakfast time that he took to hiding the packet from them.

"It is not easy to describe the chaos that swiftly ensued," writes the affable Mr Stewart. "First, outraged children staged a sit-down protest and refused to eat any cereal until the Ricicles were restored to their place in the breakfast cupboard and indeed a search party was formed to go round the house - including venturing into the Holy of Holies, Daddy's study - to try to locate the missing Ricicles."

"The collapse of parental authority was swift and dramatic," Mr Stewart writes. The Ricicles had to be restored.

What this has to do with Mr Stewart's views on insolvency law I have no idea, but it certainly provides light relief from his other, longer article in the same issue, headed: "What does section 426 actually mean?" I often find myself asking the same question.

Congratulations to Michael Hart, chairman of Foreign & Colonial Management, who is to become the new director general of the Association of Investment Trust Companies. Mr Hart is a heavyweight figure in the industry who is about to retire from Foreign and Colonial, where he has worked since 1954. From January next year he will replace the present incumbent, Ernest Fenton, who has spent four and a half years in the role.

Mr Fenton is retiring to devote all his energies to his large farm in Tunbridge Wells, which produces top quality beef.

Born in Scotland, Mr Fenton has recently sold most of his Scottish interests in order to concentrate on the farm. He is also helping to organise a "phantom pheasant shoot" with gun makers Holland & Holland in aid of cancer charities this November, during which City bods will be invited to blast away at clay pigeons.

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