Curry meal plot spiced up British bank bailout

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : British finance minister Alistair Darling and his team steeled themselves with a meal of spicy Indian dishes as they prepared for difficult night-long negotiations on the unprecedented half-a-trillion pound economic rescue package.

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The meal Tuesday night was ordered from Gandhi’s, a south London restaurant that is popular with government ministers.

Darling and around 30 of his key staff ordered the Indian takeaway at around 9.30 p.m Wednesday while finalising the details of the 500 billion pound government package that is aimed at getting cash flowing through the British economy in the middle of a global credit crunch.

Darling himself is said to have asked for tandoori chicken, but the order also included rice, karahi lamb, vegetable curry and aloo gobi – at a cost of 245 pounds.

But as staff at Gandhi’s delivered the 32 meals to Darling’s office, a group of senior bankers, seated in another room, were fed only tea and biscuits, the British media reported Thursday.

Night-long negotiations followed the curry meal as some of the bankers reportedly resisted the government offer, which is expected to lead to banks imposing strict limits on executive pays and bonuses.

Among Darling’s three key advisers on the night was Shriti Vadera, the Indian-born minister for economic competitiveness and small business – a close ally of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The government appeared to have won the day – and the first announcements were made on television and radio at around 6 a.m.

The role of the Indian curry in the rescue package negotiations has already been enshrined in the finance ministry and British media, who have dubbed it the Balti Bailout.

Gandhi’s, which opened in 1983, has served members of successive British governments, but is a particular favourite of finance ministers – regardless of party affiliations.

Former finance ministers who have tucked into a meal of spicy Indian curry before diving into the world of drab figures have included John Major (Tory Party) and Gordon Brown (Labour), both of whom went on to become prime ministers of Britain.

There is also Kenneth Clarke, the heavyweight Tory finance minister who never made it as party leader despite having strong support among a section of the party.

The London Times once reported, “Mr (Kenneth) Clarke cheered himself by heading currywards, he took his mob to Kennington Road Gandhi’s.”

The restaurant’s website gives a long list of celebrity clients, including leading politicians John Reid, Jack Straw, Paddy Ashdown and Anne Widdecombe, and celebrities such as TV chat show hosts Richard and Judy.

Gandhi’s is also a restaurant where politicians scheme and plot, say newspaper reviews.

It was named as one of Britain’s top 100 restaurants in 2005 and figured in a list of London’s top 15 restaurants in 2006.