London: The ruling Labour party and
opposition Conservatives on Tuesday began their battle to woo
increasingly recalcitrant British voters using 'national
renewal' and 'change' as buzzwords in the May 6 elections
whose outcome is becoming hard to predict.
As cynicism and ennui with the political class grows
in the wake of the recent expenses scandal and other
misdemeanours, the Labour party in a bid to woo traditional
British voters promised to save domestic industry from
takeover bids by emerging nations, including India.
In their manifesto, the Labour has made takeover of
industries more stringent, saying if voted to power they will
make it mandatory that acquisition of British companies would
require buying of two-thirds shareholding.
The new step would require a change of ownership to
have two-third holdings of a company up from the current 50.1
per cent. It was under this rule that Indian companies like
the TATA took over British blue chip company like
Range-Rovers, tea and steel companies.
Not to be left behind, the Tory leader David Cameron,
whose party has an edge over Labour in the opinion polls,
promised to hand over more power to the people and issued a
manifesto titled "Invitation to join the government of
He said no government could solve all problems on its
own and said he wanted "everyone to get involved".
"This is a manifesto for a new kind of politics...
People power, not state power," he said.
The third major party, Liberal Democrats, is expected
to release its manifesto tomorrow, even as many people
admitted that they hardly, if ever, read manifestos before
deciding their votes.
Releasing the manifesto, Prime Minister Gordon Brown
promised a 'national renewal', and insisted that Labour was in
'the future business'.
The party's manifesto, however, came in for
considerable criticism for being bereft of any new ideas,
except the one making takeovers by foreign companies
In recent years, several Indian companies such as Tata
and United Breweries have taken over major British companies.
However, the recent takeover of Cadbury's by American
chocolate major Kraft has attracted much concern and criticism
Besides raising the percentage of shareholders
required to approve takeovers by foreign companies, the party
also intends to extend a "public interest" test to let the
government block potential takeovers of infrastructure and
utility companies, which currently applies only to the media
and national security.
The manifesto also says companies should be more
transparent about long-term plans for businesses they want to
acquire, that there should be more disclosure of who owns
shares, a requirement for bidders to say how they will finance
bids and greater transparency on advisers' fees.
It says there is a case for limiting votes to those
on the register before the bid.
Reacting to the takeover proposals, The Financial
Times said: "A debate about the future of takeover rules is
welcome... but pre-empting it by pledging to legislate for a
two-thirds majority is populist, premature and would undermine
the UK's commitment to open markets and investment".
Prominent commentator Jonathan Freedland wrote in The
Guardian: "All fine as far as it goes, but still there's
something missing. What Labour needed today was a move so
bold, so surprising, it would have changed the game
completely. They needed it especially urgently because they
are still behind in the polls and, while the Tory lead is not
as large as it should be under the circumstances, it is
becoming stubborn and consistent".
First Published: Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 18:52