Business, Economics and Jobs

Milking the silly season


A bottle of milk is pictured on a table in London on August 2, 2010. Food safety officials in Britain will investigate a claim that milk from the offspring of a cloned cow was on sale for public consumption, they said Monday.


Geoff Caddick

Top stories: Like a sailboat floating listlessly in a dead calm, Britain’s news agenda in August is adrift – a summer recess of parliament and absence other story-generators that leaves journalists scrabbling to fill column inches.

Which is why, when milk gets spilled – as it did when cost-cutting officials this month foolishly announced they were axing free dairy handouts to kids under five – there is what appears to be a disproportionate amount of crying.

That said, there’s a significant back story to the hastily abandoned milk proposal: a similar move in the 1970s that saw a promising young education minister’s career nearly derailed after she scrapped handouts to children over seven.

But while Margaret Thatcher overcame a damning “milk-snatcher” sobriquet to emerge as Britain’s first woman prime minister, David Cameron – or “Dave the dairy cutter” as he might have become known as – was taking no chances.

It wasn’t just the milk scandal creating a bad month for cows in the U.K. Just days earlier came the revelation that meat from three cloned cows had been sold in the country. Though common elsewhere, such sales are illegal across much of Europe.

Meanwhile Cameron’s groundbreaking leadership alliance with centrist Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg was undergoing fresh scrutiny as it passed the 100 days landmark, with many ridiculing the junior partner’s role.

Invoking the image of a much-derided “Star Wars” character, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde suggested that “If he ever started out as the Sundance Kid, Clegg has ended up the unintentionally irksome comedy sidekick – the coalition’s Jar Jar Binks.”

There was more trouble for Cameron before he managed to pack his bags for a summer vacation in England’s wet and windy Cornwall. On a trip to India, the prime minister made ill-advised comments on Pakistan’s attitudes to terrorism.

The ensuing diplomatic storm, though bad enough, would probably have been worse had not Pakistan’s own gaffe-prone leader, Asif Ali Zardari, stirred up controversy by checking into a luxury London hotel as his country faced a devastating flood disaster.

Tony Blair, another British leader whose time on the world stage was marred by controversy, primarily over the war in Iraq, was this month trying to rehabilitate his image by donating a $7.2 million advance for his memoirs to a soldiers’ charity.

There was to be no absolution in the eyes of the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper, Blair’s bête-noire while in power, which suggested the move might really be just a ploy to save a few million pounds in taxes.

Perhaps he should’ve given the cash to Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, whose well-documented fall from grace hit a new low this month amid claims she was up to $7.8 million in debt – not a sum she is reportedly losing any sleep over.

More bad news for royalty of a different kind: soccer superstar David Beckham – forced to miss this year’s World Cup due to injury – was permanently dropped from the England team. To make matters worse, no one bothered to tell him.

A rare piece of August intrigue rounded off the month. An investigation was launched after the body of a man reportedly working for Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency was found in a bag at his London home. Neighbors believed he had been dead two weeks.

Money: Business news went on vacation too this month, if only to tell the gloomy story of thousands left stranded by the collapse of several travel firms. First to go was package tour operator Sun4u, quickly followed by Kiss. More may follow.

Looking ahead to winter, there was further gloom from energy giant British Gas which, despite booking record profits of more than $900 million, warned consumers of significant price rises to come.

As always, there was a rosier outlook from tech firm Apple, which banked on the success of the iPad computer to open its largest-ever store - a consumer cathedral of traditional stonework and polished gadgetry in London’s Covent Garden.

Anyone with the kind of cash needed to splash on a new tablet computer might want to consider dropping in on auction house Christie’s, which announced this month it was selling artworks owned by the collapsed Wall Street bank Lehman Brothers.

The sale, including an early piece by shock artist Damien Hirst, is a reminder of the economic downturn which continues to overshadow Britain with fresh warnings from the governor of the Bank of England of a “choppy” road to recovery.

Elsewhere:  Declassified top secret documents released by Britain’s national archive this month shed new light on a wartime encounter with a flying saucer that spooked Winston Churchill.

Churchill feared the incident, in which a UFO was seen shadowing a Royal Air Force bomber, could cause public panic and loss of faith in religion if word got out, so ordered accounts of the event to be hushed up for at least 50 years.