Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Pip pip, toodle-oo; its just not cricket

If ever there was a misleading title to a post, this must be it. This is not about cricket at all. Neither is it about Bertie Wooster. Instead it’s a most ungentlemanly rant.

Readers may recall that I had railed about the behaviour of US Congressmen towards Akio Toyoda here. Something similar has now happened with British MPs and Kraft. This growing trend of activism by politicians towards business is dangerous.

What happened yesterday was this. Kraft was “summoned” to appear before the House of Commons’ business, innovation and skills committee (let us lightly pass over the delicious irony of the words skills and innovation being featured in the same sentence as MPs !) Unlike the brave Toyoda-san, Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman of Kraft ducked this one and sent Marc Firestone Kraft’s head of corporate and legal affairs. Marc Firestone, as far as I know, is a US national. He is not a subject of Her Majesty and British MPs have absolutely no right to behave as they did with him. You can read an account of the select committee hearing here. I happened to listen to snippets of the hearing on BBC Radio yesterday. Marc Firestone was virtually in tears and the bullying by the MPs was downright scandalous.

The problem relates to Cadbury’s Somerdale plant near Bristol. Well before the affair with Kraft, Cadbury had planned to close this factory. During the very public wooing of Cadbury, Kraft unwisely announced that it would not close the factory in a dumb move to get public support. After the deal had been done, Kraft announced that it would close the factory after all, saying that it had not known previously how far advanced the Cadbury closure plans were. Kraft clearly did a mistake, and was blatantly at fault. But the crux of the matter is this – it has done nothing wrong legally.

It is irrelevant to this argument whether Kraft was right or wrong. The British Parliament has no right to demand anything of Kraft US. Sure – it can proceed against Kraft UK. It can certainly action against British nationals, if they have done anything illegal. But other than that, it has no business calling foreign nationals and bullying them.

Unlike Toyoda san, Irene Rosenfeld chose to duck this, but for the wrong reasons. If she had upfront stated that British MPs had no right to demand anything of her, I would have applauded. Of course, saying such a thing would be a PR suicide. Instead she chickened out quietly. That would equally haunt her as a PR disaster worse than if she had come. Some readers of this blog know of an alternate person she could have sent, who I believe would have acquitted himself a little more credibly. On second thoughts, he would never have come; knowing which battles he could win and which he couldn’t. Would love to see some comments on this from those who know him.

This growing political interference with businesses needs to be condemned. I could mouth some obscenities. But then , although the sun has set on the British empire (maybe the MPs haven’t noticed it as yet), some of the glories of British culture are alive and well in the Commonwealth. The British MPs behaved like boors with Marc Firestone. I will express disapproval in a more British way. Pip pip, toodle-oo ; its just not cricket old chap.


Sandhya Sriram said...

i think this is the other side of the problem, opposite of my note on your earlier blog... for the crowd that matters, these kind of steps seemingly appear nationalist.

i guess its both a problem, whether you have a crowd which dosent understand or a crowd which understands too much. i dont know whether something in between would ever emerge.

RamMmm said...

They have a precedent from their closest ally, don't they? All the more reason to strut their controls. After all, a politician is a politician is a politician, no matter where he/she is. They have their own axes to grind and own ends to link.

Well, maybe the transnational companies need to budget in, additional travel and liability allowances for their top guns to all the countries they are in to appear before the "political groups with a purpose"! :)

// Some readers of this blog know of an alternate person she could have sent, who I believe would have acquitted himself a little more credibly.

I plead ignorance, and my only wild guess is 'you', sire. :-) Will let others weigh in on this.

ambulisamma said...

I agree with Ram,it shld hv been u there.

Anonymous said...

Ramesh ... that was mighty interesting to read about. Loss of jobs is no doubt a bad thing but the MP's take on it is just to keep the voter's happy.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - There are, hopefully, lots in between. Its just that only the extremes shout - the in betweens keep quiet !

@RamMmm - Yes, politicians will be politicians indeed. We live in a world with global corporations, but with national laws. That's the origin of the problem. As an Indian national, as long as I don't break the law anywhere, I believe I am answerable only in India and to nobody else. Totally flattered, but I am a zillion miles from the rarified echelons of corporate honchos - the reference was a private dig at somebody a few of us know; too dangerous to make public !!

@ambulisamma - Completely bowled over. As I responded to RamMmm, I am very far away from that league.

@thoughtful train - Sure the job of a MP is to pander to voters. What gets my goat is when they bully non nationals - they really have no locus standi with foreigners as long as they have not broken the law.

zeno said...

Yes the post is not about cricket, but too bad, my office web filter dint know it :) :(
I was eagerly waiting to read the comments to know who tat personality was?[very much disappointed :(]
As Ram said, may be they took cue from their cousins across the atlantic and wanted to prove a point or two!!!

Ramesh said...

@zeno - I should stop thinking I am the only one suffering from the attentions of the Net nanny - of course all offices have their own version of the net nanny too !!

In terms of self exaggerated pomposity I think the British politicians will even beat their cousins - although they are somewhat concerned that those across the pond see them more as poodles rather than cousins !

Vishal said...

Given IPL is full on at this point, I thought this post would be about cricket. :-( such a die hard fan of cricket, I am.

That politicians meddling with business affairs and bullying coporates without valid base is definitely not on, as you rightly said earlier also, especially subjecting someone innocent to unwarranted rants. Judiciary systems and regulators are there to take care of these stuffs.

Durga said...

Ramesh, the title of your post seems to have misled your readers! :-D World over, politicians are a constitution unto themselves and that's what makes their atrocities unbearable. This is once such appalling instance. Now, you've really got a whole lot of us netizens scratching our heads trying to figure out who could have faced the MPs in place of Irene Rosenfeld...

LEB said...

Just catching up Ramesh. I have been following the Toyota story closely like any other Japanese car fan and the blow up of the whole situation is ridiculous. Now that that real Big 3 are not the realy Big 3 anymore, the mud slinging is insane. And the American drivers are going to cash in on all the lawsuits they can pile based on the false allegations. Your articles are so rich in clarity that an average reader like me starts to feel like a business student(I wish...) !!

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Sorry; haven't yet found a businessy angle to IPL !!

@Durga - Very misleading title indeed. Didn't mean to create a mystery. See comment to all below

@Blogueur - I am amazed at the number of people piling in with lawsuits. On second thoughts, I suppose we should not be amazed - this is America after all

Ramesh said...

@all - Didn't mean to create a mystery out of the oblique reference to somebody who could have done it better. If you go here, you'll figure it out !

kiwibloke said...

One of the few who has worked for the 'alternate' in two different lands, he is the master at timing! and as you rightly said, some battles are best won by not being fought and he had this uncanny knack of knowing which ones to pick and which ones not to. lesser mortals like who are street fighters get into all battles for the kick of it. I love the blood, guts and adrenalin. Wish I could have learnt a lot more from this 'artful dodger', decisive and yet selective

kiwibloke said...

apologies. read it as lesser mortals like me and not as typed

Ramesh said...

@kiwi - Aha ; that was what I was waiting for. Completely true.

gils said...

oops..ithu epdi miss achu!! britain has become US puppet. Anga aricha ivanga sorinjipanga nenakren. watever those guys do have become universal norm. pity. the place where once.. sun never used to setting such a bad example.

Ramesh said...

@gils - Puppet, Poodle, whatever ; Britain is not having its best period in history.

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