Friday, November 10, 2006

Lord Sainsbury: minister for GM foods quits

Science minister Lord Sainsbury has stepped down, officially to spend more time with his charities. But many commentators argue that the real reason for the one-time SDP supporter’s resignation is that he is fed up with being associated with New Labour sleaze.

By way of background, here is an extract from my 2002 book ‘Labour Party plc: New Labour as a Party of Business’, which looks at Lord Sainbury’s persistent support for genetically modified foods and wonders out loud if that backing is entirely unconnected with his business interests:

‘Officially, Tony Blair maintains that that while he is not a proponent of genetic modification, such crops should nevertheless be evaluated scientifically. In practice, he has consistently rejected calls for limitations on their use, hitting out against media ‘scaremongering’ and ‘nonsense about Frankenstein foods’.

‘Yet anything Labour has to say on the issue is automatically compromised by the Government’s links to the GM industry, symbolised by just one man. Ministerial responsibility for genetically modified crops has been given to the party’s largest financial backer, despite his business interests in GM crops.

‘David Sainsbury – an Old Etonian, although that fact is omitted from Who’s Who – has given Labour over £9m in recent years. He can afford it, of course. Sainsbury is Britain’s third-richest man, worth around £3bn.

‘This is someone clearly used to bankrolling politicians. He was a major financial supporter of the SDP in the early 1980s, remaining a trustee until 1990. He did not vote at all in 1992, and, as late as 1995, his support for Labour was decidedly lukewarm.

‘The family firm, J. Sainsbury plc, which owns the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain, issued a statement that its boss had ‘expressed his personal opinion that if he votes at the next general election, it is likely it would be for the Labour Party’.

‘Just three years later, the ‘don’t know’ floating voter was both a Labour peer and Science minister in a Labour government. With an unearned income estimated at £35m or more a year, he was, like Lord Simon, happy enough to do the job gratis.

‘Sainsbury sees no problem with enormous generosity to Labour on the one hand and his unelected office on the other. He simply argues that he is ‘proud to support the Labour Party financially alongside the many other people who contribute to it’, presumably as he was once proud to support the SDP.

‘Although Sainsbury stood down as Sainsbury’s chief executive on appointment, his role in government naturally turned the spotlight on the company’s activities. Each planning decision for out-of-town supermarkets that went Sainsbury’s way attracted notice, especially after Blair stressed his sympathies for such schemes.

‘But most controversial of all is Sainsbury’s continued ownership of two genetics companies, Diatech and Innotech Investments. While his shares were placed in the same trust as his supermarket stake when he became a minister, he still benefits from any profits they make.

"In addition, Lord Sainsbury funds GM research at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich by around £3m a year, channelling the money through his Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

‘It is also backed by the state. In the last year of the Major administration, it was given £300,000. Since Sainsbury became Science minister in July 1998, government support has risen to £1.2m a year, a 300 per cent increase.’

A quick butcher’s at Amazon reveals that ‘Labour Party plc’ has not only not been remaindered, but has even sold a few copies recently. Goodie. Can’t wait for the next three shillings and sixpence royalty cheque from the publishers.


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