The Conservative party has slammed Prime Minister Tony Blair’s close ties with business, and a Tory spokesman warned that recent moves by the UK’s leading supermarket group, Tesco, to hire two key Downing Street advisers, would lead the company to be “contaminated by cronyism”.

In accordance with the paid advice of Philip Gould, one of the Prime Minister’s most powerful political advisers, UK supermarket group Tesco has recently reorganised its publicity, media and lobbying operations, and instituted the new post of director of government affairs.

Two weeks ago, the group successfully engineered a major sector coup, with the appointment of Blair’s private secretary David North in the role. North, who is due to work at Tesco in late February, is a rural affairs specialist and a key government adviser on the environment, farming and GM foods. He served as a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (now the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra]) and has been instrumental in the organisation of the Cabinet Office’s unit to support biotechnology.

Tory Spokesman on environment, food and rural affairs, Peter Ainsworth, condemned the appointments, telling the Independent on Sunday: “This reinforces the sense that there is a charmed circle around the Prime Minister which major corporations feel they need to get inside.”