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Check & Reserve @ Now Button) 12

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

New! See also our "Scoop!" page - exclusive news and investigations by the Simply Info News Team 

30th June 2001

The UK stock markets had another unhappy week, although the eventual result for the FTSE100 was a loss for the week of only 23.2 as it closed on Friday at 5,642.5 despite hitting a 12-week low on Thursday. This represents a rise on the quarter of just 8.8 points, but after five consecutive quarterly falls it has been seen as a measure of returning confidence that this quarter had not produced yet another fall.

The banking sector suffered worse than most others on Friday with Royal Bank of Scotland losing 4.9% to finish at 1567, and Bank of Scotland dropping 3.5%. The sector as a whole lost 11 index points. Against the trend that has continued for many months, it was techs that managed to offset banking losses, with selective heavy buying for many which saw, among others, a rise of 9.1% for telecoms testing company Spirent.

Analysts seemed a little unsure about the direction the markets are now likely to take, with those few making apparently confident predictions were careful to avoid being too specific. Equities strategist Rolf Elgeti at Commerzbank announced, "In the next quarter I would expect a volatile sideways move. The UK market is still looking at the United States, but more from the macro point of view," and David McBain of Deutsche Bank commented, "There is every chance we will test the 6,000 level if confidence begins to return about corporate activity and earnings growth. Near term the problems, on a global scale, remain."

Some investors are optimistically looking for a cut in UK interest rates to boost confidence when the Bank of England’s monetary policies committee meets next week, and pointed to this week’s cut of 0.25% in the U.S. by the Federal Reserve. Many economists, however, expect the MPC to leave rates on hold as a result of recent data on inflation and retail sales that has shown stronger results than were expected.

Incredibly, for a government that has appointed a Minister of Transport who cannot drive a car (see last week’s News Comment), the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs has reported that "the government [is] terrified of appearing anti-car". The comments came from Andrew Bennett, chairman of the committee when he reported the findings of their study into how to encourage more walking and less car journeys. Recommendations included the switching of funds from road-building to the promotion of walking, the establishment of a "National Walking Strategy" and a "National Walking Forum", and the committee criticised local authorities for "not giving sufficient priority to walking in their Local Transport Plans."

The committee’s findings were based on evidence from various groups including the Pedestrians Association, the Strategic Rail Authority, the Urban Design Alliance, Birmingham City Council and Transport for London.
That might explain a lot.

In yet another bizarre twist to normality, I see that the "information commissioner" Elizabeth France is attacking MI5 for their failure to disclose details of personal files they hold. The secrecy is, according to its critics, in breach of article eight of the European human rights convention, and MI5’s refusal to either confirm or deny that they hold details on any particular individual is "interference with that individual's private life by the non-confirmation". MI5 is reported to hold nearly 300,000 personal files.

I thought that the purpose of MI5 was to work in secret in order to protect the security of the UK. Perhaps I was wrong. Is it just me?

As we recover from a general election that saw over 40% of the UK population so uninterested in the whole event they didn’t even bother to vote, I see a report about to be presented to Home Office minister John Denham will suggest the lowering of the voting age to 16. "Young people actually want more control. We want to broaden what politics means", say the report’s supporters. "It shouldn't just be about the ballot box every four years. It's about looking at every institution and asking how we can give more power to the users." Ah. Now is that just about lowering the voting age, I wonder?

Whilst surveys carried out during the production of the report indicate that 71% of 16- to 24-year-olds interviewed said they wanted a greater say in decisions that affected them, at the same time it showed that more than 60% of those within that age group who were eligible to vote actually bothered to do so.

As a few of the regular readers of Simply Info’s weekly News Comment might possibly have noticed, I’m none too keen on politicians generally. Naturally, I have a soft spot for some of them, and in particular those who are a little out of the ordinary. One of my particular hates, however, was shaken this week when I read an article from Guardian Unlimited about Ken Clarke and his efforts to become the next Conservative leader. I suddenly found myself warming to this politician, and I hope Guardian Unlimited won’t mind too much if I quote some of their comments.

Ken Clarke’s policy, according to them, can be summed up with the phrase "f**** the lot of you." His philosophy is simply "I am the only candidate who can win the next general election, and if you don't agree, you're even more stupid than I thought you were." When, allegedly, asked "Surely you can't lead the party you so regularly insult?" he is reported to have replied that so far as he could see the Tory party had no idea of how humiliating their defeat had been, and in fact the Tory party had failed to realise anything much at all.

A perfect summary of Ken's campaign might well be that it is run against the Conservative party itself rather than against his rivals for the leadership.

Being someone who dislikes the Conservative Party no more or less than I dislike New Labour, The Liberal Democrats or most other parties purporting to take themselves seriously, I found these comments delightful. How I hope they really are based on fact, and that our roly-poly Ken’s character is really as they portray it. How invigorating it would be to our whole country, indeed to the whole world, when he eventually becomes Prime Minister as anyone with such attributes surely must.

Alas, I fear it is, in part at least, quite untrue. Also from Guardian Unlimited I hear that our Ken told the new MP for Henley, Boris Johnson, he must decide whether he wants to be a politician or a comedian. Come on now, Ken, why should Boris be different from the other 659 Members of Parliament?

Finally for this week, I was delighted to see that GW Pharmaceuticals (see last week’s News Comment) whose shares were traded for the first time on Thursday, showed a hefty premium on the offer price as they opened. Whilst, in part, for me and many others, the company has an attractive "novelty value" being the only UK company licensed to grow cannabis, there appears a very real possibility that their medical research with the drug will open new areas in medicines that have never previously been explored. The share price fell back from the peak offer price of 204p on profit-taking over Thursday and Friday to finish down at 177.5.

30th June 2001                        

Links to previous news comments:

23-June 2001

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