OUR DISARMING MAN FROM THE MINISTRY
Tip for the top. While some Government ministers spin from one crisis to another, one is being spoken of in glowing terms at Westminster and in Whitehall. Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, has been quietly going about his business and - rare for a Labour minister - winning plaudits from the hard-to-please defence industry. One adviser to a weapons contractor says they are impressed with his 'accessibility and pragmatism' - shorthand for willing to see them (not something that could be said of his predecessors) and take on board their arguments. Next stop for Hoon? The adviser predicts his rapport with business makes him destined for the Department of Trade and Industry in the next reshuffle.
COOKING THE BOOKS
What motivates Gordon Brown? Over dinner with two parliamentarians, the conversation turns to the chancellor and his unremitting exterior. I say he is a one-off, someone who makes other, committed politicians look like amateurs. One example. Once on another newspaper we were offered a profile of Brown by a journalist who had spent a weekend with him at his house in Scotland. The journalist had offered to run some of the details by the chancellor's office, but we were not going to turn down a piece from someone who had got that close to one of the great untouchables of modern British public life. The article was fine. It painted a picture of a home full of political books and pamphlets, and an owner who wore his trademark dark suit even at weekends.
Then the phone went. The chancellor's people asked that one detail, that he kept political books in his bath, be removed. The intervention raised all sorts of questions. Why the embarrassment? His aides could take most things - like, for instance, on a trip to the US all he bought were yet more sober suits - but were books in the bath too much? Where does he wash?
A newsletter arrives from Hobsbawm Macaulay, the PR firm. It contains gushing detail about the agency's staff, how Beth is returning home to the US with her family and Amanda is trekking across South America. Contact numbers are given, most of them for Julia Hobsbawm. But there is barely a mention of Julia's partner, Sarah Macaulay, the chancellor's consort.
Either she does very little for the firm or what she does is not worth shouting about, which is surely not the case - or, as seems more likely, is so sensitive it cannot be shared with the world.
Merchant bankers fretting about the new-issues market and their fee income should pay more attention to the burgeoning Asian business community.
Traditionally, these folk shunned the stock market, preferring to rely on clan resources to fund growth. Not now. They have taken to public offerings with a vengeance. Whereas a decade ago there were barely 10 directors of quoted firms from the Asian community, today there are more than 100.
And they are some of the best performers. Take the Goldshield pharmaceutical group. Floated at pounds 58 million two years ago, it is now worth pounds 300 million-plus - making it the only major company on the stock market where every executive director (all Patels) is a multi-millionaire. And there are many more Goldshields-in-waiting out there for the City to woo. In Essex, Vijay and Bhikhu Patel are building up the pounds 200 million-plus Waymade Healthcare business with the stated aim of creating a 'mini-Glaxo'. It is time the pinstripes woke up to this new and confident force in the British economy.
These are hard times in the public sector, but a ploy devised by West Midlands police to raise money takes the biscuit. Security firms have been told by the force that they must pay the police for installing burglar alarms. If they don't, the police will not respond if their alarms go off. The British Security Industry Association is outraged and is seeking judicial review to get the move overturned. What next? Insurers paying police for attending road accidents?
Next month I give a talk in Cambridge on 'the press and manipulating financial markets'. My view is that, although cases like the City Slickers on the Mirror have attracted a DTI inquiry, the ramping of shares is an insidious fact of life. One personal tale. I was once asked, for a New Year's Eve edition, to do a newspaper's share tip of the year. A friend in the City made a case for an electrical goods supplier. I believed him and said so in the paper. Next day the shares rose 35p. Another City friend rang and inquired if my other friend was paying me. 'Why?' I asked, naively.
'Didn't he tell you about his huge position in the firm? He made pounds 40,000 this morning.'
Chris Blackhurst is deputy editor of The Express.