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News Comment
a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

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The FTSE 100 index finished the week just 18 points up at exactly 5915. Analysts were disappointed by the week’s result, having hope that the drop of 0.5% in U.S. interest rates coming on top of the cuts of 0.25% by the Bank of England and the Central European Bank last week would have gone further to raise investors’ enthusiasm and confidence.
Strong results from Safeway did help, and results from Marconi were better than some had expected although the company dampened spirits by announcing they did not expect a full recovery in the telecoms sector until well into next year. GKN announced a 20% drop in profits, blaming the drop on export difficulties resulting from the sharp economic downturn in the U.S. Oil companies, however, generally had a good week, with BP gaining 15p and Shell rising by 33p.
An incorrect sell order from a major investor at the end of trading on Monday did nothing to improve sentiment. The order to sell £30 million of shares wrongly put through as an order to sell £300 million resulted in the FTSE100 losing 206 points for the day, and even after a correction was made the damage had been done and confidence severely shaken.
Many financial experts are predicting the FTSE100 will fail to break the 6000 level in the near future, although most believe that the worst is now definitely over and that any falls during the highly volatile trading expected in coming weeks will be short-lived.

Journalists were delighted this week by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s punch jabbed at a protestor who had just thrown an egg at him at close quarters during a walkabout in North Wales. The legal implications of the scuffle are probably minimal, with the possibility only that the protestor, Craig Evans, may be charged with a minor offence. The incident has, however, provided the media with a source of great entertainment and debate; provided many and varied minority groups with something new to protest about, or at the very least something about which to express their particular views; provided politicians of all persuasions with a topic that might possibly take the voters’ minds away from the very dull topics that so far have made this arguably the dullest general election campaign in recorded history. More importantly, perhaps, it may have just managed to renew the voting public’s interest in politicians, and it might just possibly have prevented the June general election going down in the record books as having the lowest turnout ever recorded for a general election in the UK.
I was also delighted to see that took the time and trouble to interview a spokesman for the Amateur Boxing Association about John Prescott’s punch ("we'd be very happy to see him training a ring - I'm sure the exercise would do him some good."), and also, most appropriately with Tony Blair’s nickname having been "Bambi", so many news reports are referring to John Prescott as "Thumper". Wonderful stuff. It just goes to prove that politics really can be such fun.
Thank you, John.

I never fail to be amazed at the "political correctness" that continues to claw at the vitals of otherwise totally sane men and women. This week’s example involves the tobacco industry and the medical profession.
We all know that smoking is bad for you. Not very many people will dispute that. We also know that the tobacco industry makes huge profits from our continued addiction to its products, and various people have tried, some successfully, to relieve it of some of these profits in the name of compensating those poor souls who chose to make themselves ill using these terrible products. Fair enough. Yet when a major player in the tobacco industry deliberately and voluntarily decides to contribute a substantial sum to a good cause, there’s suddenly an outcry, resignations, and demands that the money should be returned.
This is exactly what has happened at Nottingham University. A donation of £3.8 million from BAT (British American Tobacco) has outraged many including part-time lecturer in medical journalism Professor Richard Smith who is also editor of the British Medical Journal. With cries that BAT is trying to buy respectability and that the University has been "damaged" by accepting the funding, Professor Smith firstly ran a poll among British Medical Journal readers to find that 84% of those who replied apparently agreed with him, and then he resigned.
I am pleased to say, however, that the University will keep the money which will be used to fund an "International Centre of Corporate and Social Responsibility" (that sounds worrying in itself, but that’s another story). Philip Dalling, head of public affairs at the University said that a total of 400 people had been involved in the decision to take the money, and there had been only two critical comments.
Come on, Professor Smith, withdraw your resignation. Why not accept their money? In fact, why not take as much of it as you can? After all, they’re making enough, and you wouldn’t be complaining if it was being paid out of money extracted from the tobacco industry by a court action against them, would you? Or perhaps you’re worried that £3.8 million might damage BAT’s profits?
Don’t worry. I’m still buying their products in large quantities.

19th May 2001                        


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