Magazine article The Spectator

No Scoops and No Passion in the Pink 'Un -- but There Is a Yellow Streak

Magazine article The Spectator

No Scoops and No Passion in the Pink 'Un -- but There Is a Yellow Streak

Article excerpt

Richard Lambert, who is retiring as editor of the Financial Times after ten years, is getting a good send-off. This may partly be because the broadsheet press does not regard his paper as much of a rival. The Financial Times sells in this country fewer than 200,000 copies out of a worldwide circulation of nearly 500,000. It is no longer really a British publication, and so British newspapers can easily write about it with a sense of detachment and generosity.

And there are, no doubt, many good things to say about Mr Lambert. He has greatly increased the foreign sales of the FT. In an age of dumbing-down he has not dumbed down - a singular achievement. The paper's foreign coverage remains wider than that of any other British title, and its arts and books pages are outstanding. But there is something wrong with it all the same. It lacks passion. It lacks scoops. It lacks the capacity for original thought, tending to trudge along in the ruts laid down by the Whitehall mandarinate and big business. If a latter-day Alexander Pope were updating the Dunciad, he could do no better than start with the FT.

Some of its deficiencies are evident in the way it has written about - or, more often, not written about - one particular company over the past 18 months. I am talking about Huntingdon Life Sciences, the animal-testing group targeted, and nearly ruined, by animalrights activists. All of us will have reservations about using animals for experimentation, but most of us will probably agree with Polly Toynbee, who in a splendid column in the Guardian several months ago berated the financial institutions which have forsaken Huntingdon Life Sciences under pressure from the activists. `Who spells out the truth,' asked Ms Toynbee, that `no animal tests means no cancer cures?' Even if you do not go along with her, you presumably do not think it right to send letter bombs to the company's employees, bum 11 of their cars and assault one of their senior managers.

Over the past 18 months activists have blackmailed a succession of large institutions to pull the plug on Huntingdon Life Sciences. HSBC, Barclays and Phillips and Drew have got rid of their investments in the company. Its stockbrokers, West LB Panmure, have taken flight. When NatWest, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, withdrew as bankers in January, it looked as though Huntingdon Life Sciences was finished. Stephens Group, an American bank, stepped in at the 11 th hour, only to find itself targeted by the activists. Nearly two weeks ago the government announced that in a highly unusual arrangement the Bank of England would act as a banker of last resort.

If the company does survive, it will be no thanks at all to the Financial Times. Whereas other papers have offered support - the Guardian, perhaps rather surprisingly, has carried at least three leaders this year attacking the protesters; Sunday Business has been steadfast - the pink 'un has remained almost shtoom. As the house organ of the City, it has been in an unequalled position to tell these querulous bankers and fat cats where their moral duty lay. It could have chided them, lectured them or shamed them, but it chose to do none of these things. The only editorial that the paper has devoted to Huntingdon Life Sciences over the past 18 months (it appeared on 16 January 2001) was characteristically emollient. …

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