Danny Smith: Up Bournville Boulevard

Last Tuesday Jon sent me to cover the BBC WM public forum debate about the Kraft takeover of Cadbury, it was held in Bournville. Bournville, for those of you that don’t know, was built by the do-gooding Cadbury family who thought booze was the devil’s piss. Subsequently it’s dryer than Gandhi’s Black and Decker belt sander. Jon sent me for three reasons; one, Jon is a cruel bastard; two, he had a strong idea that I would find it a boring waste of time; and three, if he and Carl Chinn actually meet the universe will turn inside out and reality itself’ll get torn a new arsehole.

The reaction to the news across the the media has ranged from the predicable hysterical cloying nostalgia of ‘oh no they’re going to make wispas taste of Stilton and and shoot curly wurlys into space, how dare they mess with things from my childhood’. To the sort of surprising cynical capitalism normally reserved for European baddies in Die Hard. Myself, although concerned about the job losses, didn’t really give too much of a toss. Cadbury’s as a company has been floated as public stock since 1962 where it set about swallowing smaller businesses with almost religious zeal to, ironically enough, control the American market.

I was shocked when I arrived to find a grey horde — my presence bringing the average age down to about sixty. Seeing as, to me, the only real issue was the potential loss of jobs. There was a surprising lack of people who actually work there, as opposed to used-to-work-there or my-family’s-been-working-there-since-we-made-chocolate-from-pterodactyl-eggs.

I’d be hard pushed to call the meeting a debate as everyone in the room obviously agreed that the takeover was a Bad Thing. The main argument then came between the capitalist apologists personified by Eddie Large look-alike Lord Digby ‘biggest dog in the world’ Jones and Carl Chin, tonight looking like a Vulcan making a guest appearance in a Bristow cartoon. Carl stormed the platform with a series of terrific sound bites and gesticulations, he also managed to cover the first two rows in socialist spittle which is a clear sign you’re getting your moneys worth.

Warren Buffett and Sherlock Holmes

One woman stood up and said that she “didn’t want to see it [Cadbury] turned over to the yanks” as if they were going to force her to wear ten gallon hats and pitch baseball instead of knit. The banter between the panellists turned nasty when LDJ explained there was nothing the government can, or should do to stop overseas investment in this country anybody who said otherwise he said, referring to Comrade Chin, was offering ’empty promises’.

It was was about then the atmosphere changed, before it had been one of pleasant — but excited — solidarity, like Marks and Spencer’s during a blackout, but as the feelings of betrayal came out people started to get upset. The man next to me sniffling in a touching but also gross and really really annoying way. These was no real argument, they just felt hurt, confused and while at a loss to understand the complexities of big business they understood also the inevitability of it. They had questions to ask but what they really wanted was reassurances and to be told it was all going to be all right.

It wasn’t a good way for the residents to express their feelings because the issues were complicated enough to leave no clear pariah to shout at. It wasn’t a good way of disseminating information because there wasn’t really any, and as representatives from neither Kraft or Cadbury turned up, and it wasn’t even a good way of finding out what your average Cadbury worker thought of it all because everybody that still works there was either there working or had an early night because they had to work there in the morning.

What does the future hold? Well, on the 2nd of Feb the votes will come in and the shareholders will have voted unanimously in favour of the sale. That’s seeing as almost 25% of the shareholders are hedge funds that stand to double the worth of their stocks.

Will there be great change? I don’t think so, well not immediately. You don’t borrow a huge amount of money to acquire a company like Cadbury without respecting it as a brand, a brand with an identity, a story, and an ethos. You don’t pay £11.9bn and start fucking with its soul.

If anything Kraft workers in Illinois should be out the front with placards because the money has got to come from somewhere.

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

  • For the record, Rowheath Pavillion, the venue of the debate, does have a bar which opened when the debate ended – they do a nice pint there.

  • Never let the truth get in the way of a good simile.

  • bugger – thought when somebody suggested going to the bar at the end and everybody laughed, they were taking the piss