Should hedge funds be disenfranchised?
Name the following business.
It has a workforce of 39,000 outside the UK, with just 6,000 staff in Britain.
Its biggest business is chewing gum.
The focus of much recent investment has been Poland, to replace UK production.
And 50% of the business and management came from the takeover of the confectionery company Adams from an American drugs business some five years ago.
Who is this faceless, heartless global conglomerate, which opportunistically shifts its capital and people to wherever the financial returns are greatest?
Not quite the image that you might have had in your mind in the closing stages of its struggle to repulse the takeover offer from Kraft.
You may have had a vision of a do-gooding, paternalistic, Quaker chocolate-maker, keeping the hearths burning in a picture-postcard Victorian model village in the Midlands.
Hmmm. A little bit anachronistic that, the stuff of Enid Blyton - to quote no less an authority than Roger Carr, who has just stepped down as Cadbury's chairman in the wake of it being swallowed whole by Kraft.
So what was all the fuss about? Why on earth did anyone care whether Cadbury was taken over by an enormous American maker of processed cheese, if in reality it was more global corporate citizen than chummy Brummy with union flag vest?
It's for three reasons:
1) there is intellectual property at Cadbury that is more valuable to the business reputation of the UK than the statistics on where it employs people would suggest;
2) the location of its head office here means that it has a natural bias to award high value contracts to other UK based firms;
3) in the game of cross-border takeovers, the playing field is tilted - so that it is much easier for overseas companies to buy in the UK than it is for British companies to buy overseas (though as Cadbury demonstrates, it is certainly not impossible to buy abroad).
Cadbury was probably just the thin end of the wedge. We haven't surrendered our entire economy into the hands of faceless, heartless foreigners with the transfer of Cadbury into Kraft's belly.
But maybe we should reflect for a moment about the implications of the official government policy that everything is for sale at the right price, now that so much of our transport system, medical research, utilities, communications, basic manufacturing and so on is in overseas hands.
Carr certainly believes this is a moment for contemplation. He made a series of provocative observations about how and why Cadbury was taken over in a speech last night at the Said Business School in Oxford.
Perhaps the most important was that short-term traders and hedge funds increased their holding in Cadbury during the course of the takeover battle from just 5% to 31%.
Now those holders wanted only one outcome, the sale of Cadbury, because only through a sale could they lock in their capital gains.
For Carr, once they owned a third of the company, Cadbury's prospects of staying independent was zero - because Kraft only had to persuade holders of a further 20% to support the bid in order to win.
This is how Carr puts it:
"It was the shift in the [share] register that lost the battle for Cadbury. The owners were progressively not long-term stewards of the business but financially motivated investors, judged solely on their own quarterly financial performance...
"There were simply not enough shareholders prepared to take a long term view of Cadbury and prepared to forego short term gain for longer term prosperity...
"At the end of the day, individuals controlling shares which they had owned for only a few days or weeks determined the destiny of a company that had been built over almost 200 years."
So if that's a problem - and, let's be clear, some would say it's not - what's the solution?
Well, Carr - who is no ideological opponent of free markets - believes there is a strong case for disenfranchising those who buy shares during the course of a takeover bid. Which would mean that the outcome of a bid would be decided only by those who have invested in the target company over a longer period.
So he would agree - in thrust rather than detail - with Vince Cable, the LibDem's Treasury spokesman, who said on the Today Programme this morning that investors should have to hold shares for a few months before being able to vote them.
To be clear, ministers have traditionally rejected such prescriptions, fearing that cure would be worse than illness - that differentially weighting votes on shares based on longevity of ownership would tend to entrench incompetent or venal managers running poor-performing companies.
The very British fear has always been that it's only the constant threat of takeover that keeps lazy corporate directors on their mettle - and it would therefore be bad for British productivity if that threat were diluted.
But my very strong impression of a quarter-century of sleeping with the business community - so to speak - is that the quality and dedication of managers has vastly improved.
Also there is some - but not enough - evidence that investment institutions are starting to behave like responsible owners.
Or to put it another way, they may more routinely replace poor management while retaining shares in those managers' businesses, rather than dumping the shares as the only way of signalling unhappiness with the directors.
So there may be merit in the Carr/Cable idea of legislating such that shareholders would earn the right to vote by demonstrating that they're long-term investors rather than fly-by-night traders.
All that said, the most resonant part of Carr's lecture will be widely seen as a dagger to the vitals of Peter Mandelson and the government.
This is what he said:
"If government really does care, it is essential they decide in advance of a bid if a company is of strategic importance, publicly confirm that position and develop an instrument that may be applied to dissuade or derail a bid if an asset is declared of strategic importance...
"What is really important is that those in power address these issues and decide their stance in advance of the next assault on our industrial landscape rather than bemoan their fate after the ship has sailed".
I am not altogether sure about Carr's landlocked ship. But many will applaud his call for serious re-examination of whether selling England by the pound is the true route to the top of the industrial Premier League.