Nothing clears the air like a really good family row. Funerals can bring them on. Cousins and aunts, wives and husbands, even, say what they have long since thought and then think of something else to say. What with the nasty accident to Europe’s constitution, and the dawning recognition that the single currency may follow it, everyone can be drawn into the argument. Predictably, Jacques and Tony are blaming each other. It’s your fault, says Jacques, you and your precious rebate — we’ll soon fix that now. Oh, yes, Tony tells him, and what about your greedy farmers? That’s where the money goes. Cut back on the Common Agricultural Policy and we wouldn’t need a rebate. At this point, surely, a light bulb glows over his head. Who needs the CAP, anyway? Well, Jacques does, and the forces of organised crime in southern Italy, and the directorate in Brussels, but do we? Does it even keep our farmers happy? Do they look it? I’m told they’re not even allowed to supply their home market — once they get close to the target, they have to start pouring milk away — and as for their customers, on them the CAP works like a tax. Perhaps someone should tell them. We could call it Rip-Off Europe — but 95 per cent of the people in Europe don’t work on farms, so it rips them off, too. Just because some Dutchman who’d lived through the war thought that they should never go hungry again, so he dreamed up the CAP to give us surpluses for ever.... This was Europe’s most ambitious project — until the euro, that is.
Grouse at Gleneagles
The light bulb flickers. Already Tony’s agile mind is casting forward to Gleneagles, where he and Jacques and the boys will be holed up at a golfing hotel, surrounded by grouse moors and, at a distance, by protesters. Couldn’t he persuade them to stand in a circle round Brussels, instead? If they want the world’s rich countries to do more to help the needy, they should protest at a policy that builds a fence round Europe, so that farmers in Asia and Africa cannot sell into it, or are smothered when Europe dumps its surpluses. Every European cow, he could point out to them, is three times as well off as the billion people who, here and there in the world, live in absolute poverty. It was time, he would say, for Britain to set an example, We would derogate ourselves from the Common Agricultural Policy, and learn to live without it, as we live without the euro. Without the rebate, too? Perhaps if Jacques were to calm down and ask nicely. After all, we could afford it.
Vultures over Bradford
The vultures are circling over Sir Ken. The card-carrying Yorkshireman who built up his family’s Bradford-based business until it could credibly take over Safeway may be offered the post of life president: a wounding euphemism. For Wm Morrison and for its chairman, Safeway now looks a bid too far, and his tight-fisted methods — signing the cheques himself — no longer suffice for financial control. Instead, we can expect a headhunters’ benefit as the boardroom takes a more orthodox pattern — shoals of non-executive directors (Sir Ken thought that check-out girls were more useful) and a chairman in the mould of Lord Burns, now moving seamlessly from Abbey National to Marks & Spencer. There will be a new chief executive whose contract will be covered with gold-plated bells and whistles. Morrison will then be just like any other struggling retailer. Sir Ken was different.
Recognition factorsBrian Quinn is chairman of Celtic Football Club, notorious for its vocal shareholders — ‘Recognise talent? The board seeks to recognise talent? You lot couldn’t recognise the Pope if he was in the directors’ box at Ibrox Park.’ So three months in the witness box at the High Court in London may come as a break. Earlier in his varied career he was the director in charge of banking supervision at the Bank of England, and now he is one of the Bank’s two witnesses in the Three Rivers case. With something like a billion pounds at stake, the Bank is being sued for misfeasance in public office over the collapse of BCCI, the Bank of Cocaine and Colombia, This lawsuit has taken ten years to get to court, learned counsel have been arguing for fifteen months, and now it’s Brian’s turn. He need not claim to have got everything right. If we could sue regulators for their mistakes, they would play safe and never let anybody do anything. Misfeasance implies something close to dishonesty, and that is quite a charge to make stick. All the same, in ten days’ time Railtrack’s shareholders will attempt it, claiming misfeasance against the Department of Transport over the busting of their company. Will Stephen Byers give evidence, or Sir Richard ‘completely flummoxed’ Mottram, or Jo ‘good day to bury bad news’ Moore? Watch these courts.
I was saying the other day that Morgan Stanley, held up as a model of management, looked more like a free fight at a Siamese cat show. Now Philip Purcell, the top cat, has been pushed out through the flap, with nothing but a saucerful of dollars to console him. His pedigree chums are high-maintenance and hard to herd, and they looked down their noses at him as a mere mid-western moggy. More hissing and spitting will follow when the results come out. Cats in their little nests agree, but not in the feline world of the investment banks.
Behind the mirror
I took Gus O’Donnell’s overdue KCB in the Birthday Honours as a sign that he had now completed his stint at the head of the Treasury, and could expect his reward. Sir Andrew Turnbull, his predecessor, went on to 10 Downing Street as Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, and Gus had been freely tipped to follow. The betting brought this down to a two-horse race, the other runner being Sir John Gieve from the Home Office. I first came to know them when they were press secretaries, one after the other, to Nigel Lawson as Chancellor. In those days this appointment gave a Treasury high-flyer some experience of the world behind the mirror in which his master’s actions were reflected. Gordon Brown abandoned this in favour of a water-gardener’s approach: selective leaking and planting. It looks neater, but something was lost by it.