Inside the system
Bankers in bloom
"THE MOST genteel gathering of power and money, aristocracy and celebrity in Britain." That's how the London Evening Standard newspaper described the recent gala night of the Chelsea Flower Show. Company bosses use the event to "network" while knocking back 3,000 bottles of champagne.
Bankers Merrill Lynch sponsored the show, and almost all the gardens are sponsored by businesses. Many of the exhibits are little more than corporate advertising. There was, for example, a concrete garden from the giant Blue Circle Cement Company. Businessmen at this year's event included representatives from leading companies like JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Rothschild's, Cartier and Goldman Sachs.
The event also attracts the rich and their hangers-on, including former Tory cabinet ministers like Stephen Norris, Norman Fowler and Michael Heseltine. Oh, there are some flowers on display, too.
BRITAIN'S richest man is pocketing up to �3 million in handouts of public money. The Duke of Westminster gets these huge handouts as subsidies for his landed estates, grabbing �300,000 for growing wheat, barley and oilseed rape. He also gets an estimated �30,000 for not growing anything at all on some land, and a further �350,000 for his dairy cows.
Figures released this month by the Ministry of Agriculture showed that �3 billion a year is given to farmers in subsidies, and 80 percent of it goes to the richest 20 percent of farmers. Just five farms in Britain get over �1 million a year from the European Union in subsidies.
"ALL the nurses had to pay these huge fees. Many had to borrow money, sell land and homes," says Allen Riley of the Filipino Association in London on the way private firms are exploiting Filipino nurses who come to Britain. Agencies in the Philippines advertise for nurses to get jobs in Britain. But they tell the workers they have to pay a "placement fee" of around �2,000.
The fee amounts to around two years wages for a Filipino nurse. The private agencies are also charging the NHS trusts around �1,500 per nurse to fill the chronic staff shortages.
A competitor in a recent "screaming competition" in Turkey won top prize...for shouting, "No to the IMF!" The scream of protest by Nuri Cihan was against the International Monetary Fund's crippling programme in Turkey.
Fitting campaign food
WE'VE FOUND just the thing for Sean Woodward, New Labour's millionaire Tory candidate in St Helens, on the campaign trail. The posh Lanesborough hotel in London is offering the "ultimate hamper". "Summer just isn't summer without a Lanesborough hamper...and a butler and a Bentley of course!" it says.
A butler will pack and unpack your hamper from the Bentley. They will then serve you a feast of Beluga caviar, terrine of foie gras and truffle, chilled Scotch lobster, washed down with Tatittinger champagne, for just �2,000.
Perhaps Woodward will get a discount from the Lanesborough. He can after all dispense with their butler and bring along his own, or three.
LABOUR'S CANDIDATE in Tunbridge Wells has discovered just how popular the government he supports really is. Ian Carvell had a hard time getting anyone to nominate him for the county council elections:
"I'm struggling. I visit a party member and beg her husband, who isn't Labour, to sign the form. He agrees. When I visit the town hall to hand in the completed forms it transpires the non-Labour spouse has already nominated the Green Party. "I frantically search for another nomination. I even beg the Tory leader to help."
Carvell eventually found someone to nominate him. Now all he has to do is persuade anyone to vote for him.
MEAN POST Office bosses are out to put a stop to a 54 year old tradition at Scarborough's Harbour Bar. Since 1946 seafront posties have enjoyed a free cup of coffee during early morning rounds to reward them for their work.
But Post Office officials have now sent Harbour Bar owner Giulian Alonzi an official letter asking him to stop providing free drinks. Hardnosed Royal Mail spokesman Phil Crossley said, "Our postmen are paid to deliver letters. The time they spend out on delivery is meant to be spent on delivering letters, not drinking cups of coffee."
Mr Alonzi was defiant, saying, "The postman is always welcome at the Harbour Bar, and there will be a cup of coffee for him on the counter if he requires it."
A warehouse worker in Glasgow won a sweet victory over his bosses after an industrial tribunal ruled last week he had been unfairly sacked for "eating a sweet". George Knox worked at Christian Salvesen's distribution centre for Safeway supermarkets in Lanarkshire.
He picked up some sweets from the floor in the damaged goods section and threw the sweets into a bin. His supervisor accused him of eating a sweet and fired him. The industrial tribunal awarded George �12,000.
Catching what jobs?
"I DON'T know how experience in assembling mobile phones is going to help me catch a chicken." That was the shocked reaction of one worker at the Motorola plant in Scotland on the latest insult from the firm's bosses. The 3,100 skilled electronics workers face the dole when the plant closes on 30 June.
Some have now been offered jobs as "chicken catchers" by the company's action team set up to find alternative jobs for them.
Things they say
"WHEN I told him I'd vote Labour his face was a picture. It was as if he thought, 'Well, if I've got Winner I've nearly made it'."
- MICHAEL WINNER, right wing film-maker and News of the World columnist, on telling Tony Blair in 1997 that he was switching from the Tories to New Labour
"ONCE A fucking Tory, always a fucking Tory."
- PAUL REES heckling Chris Bryant, New Labour's candidate for Rhondda, North Wales. Bryant used to be a member of the Conservative Association when he was at Oxford University
"THERE IS a possibility that one or two banks may need to be nationalised. This could help market sentiment, which is why I am suggesting it."
- TAKASHI IMAI, chairman of the Japanese business federation
"IF THE policy polls were reflected in voting patterns, the study found, the Greens would be in government, the main opposition parties would be the Socialist Alliance and Liberal Democrats, and the minor parties would include the Conservatives and Labour."
- GUARDIAN on a Green Party study into opinion polls on policy issues
"IF YOU set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear power is really very good."
- PAUL O'NEIL, US Treasury Secretary
"THERE ARE many people who feel very strongly that we've betrayed what the Labour Party stood for. They will not be pleased with the government."
- TONY BLAIR
"VEGETARIAN customers who have been told that the fries were beef-free have not been given the complete information."
- McDONALD'S admitting that it cook its fries in beef fat
"TWO THIRDS say most of the party leaders are making promises they can't fulfill."
- DAILY TELEGRAPH poll