Doubtless the Phoenix Four are as repellant as Mandelson would have us believe. It takes one to know one.
That the government should issue a completely dishonest report into the crash of Britain’s last domestic mass-volume car company, a testament to the years of government industrial policies that pushed it to the brink, is not surprising.
That the media should swallow it whole is also not surprising.
The journalists are so lazy, they cannot even be bothered to read their own clippings, and remind us of what happened.
When BMW decided to get shot of Rover, there were two bids on the table. One was from the Phoenix Four, who pretended that Rover could be revived as a going concern, and the other from Alchemy, a company with a proven track record of restructuring failed business, which proposed that by discarding all the useless bits, and focusing on MG, that something might be salvaged from the wreckage.
Alchemy were too straightforward. they didn’t pretend that redundancies could be avoided. They constructed what might have been a viable business plan. The Phoenix boys, who never looked like anything other than asset strippers, offered the government an electorally-convenient fantasy. Phoenix were given the company for essentially nothing and the government kept its rust-belt marginals as the BBC broadcast Pravda-like bulletins from Longbridge announcing that the government had saved thousands of jobs..
Wind forward. Rover is gone. The millions are gone. More millions have now been spent on an investigation. Labour is still in charge. As usual, nothing criminal seems to have happened.
What we see is Lord Mandelson touting his report touring the studios pronouncing himself outraged – not at his own cynicism and dishonesty, but at the cynicism and dishonesty of the Phoenix Four.
Like the inspector in Casablanca, Mandelson is evidently shocked to have discovered what was going on.
Shameless Mandelson, guardian of public morals, millionaire public servant, who cheated on his own mortgage form, demands that the Phoenix Four apologise and threatens to ban them as company directors (although not to revieve them of the scores of millions which they made from the deal).
This is not just theatre it is demented. Will nobody say that the man on the telly is spouting a fountain of bollocks? Did any of the journalists interviewing Mandelson yesterday suggest that he might like to apologise? But of course not. Our hacks are too polite or lazy or stupid or ignorant – or perhaps all of these.
I was a newspaperman. I remember linotype machines. Boilermakers for breakfast. Even the days when you could get stories without talking to a flack.
My emotions are hence conflicted as I watch the collapse of my medium.
Even without undue sentimentalism – newspapers have always as often as not been rotten, and still are – it is true that newspapers did have a golden age inasmuch as once upon a time they made money.
That business model is broken with newspapers closing almost every day and great titles struggling.
There is a group on Facebook called Newspaper Escape Plan (from which I have borrowed the title of this article) but it has yet to produce a coherent Escape Plan, although it does offer a chronicle inedité of the grim bloodbaths in American newsrooms.
Why prolong the agony? The sooner the newspapers go bust the better. The Ann Arbor News has closed? It has been terrible since forever. Good. Maybe the absence of crappy newspapers like the Ann Arbor News will create space for something better.
As for the publishers: I think that almost all of them are dinosaurs. They are run by charlatans and idiots (meaning those of mental incapacity) and most of them have done nothing interesting or useful for years.
The people who own them (eg Rupert Murdoch, my old governor) inhabit a rich world of psychosis completely disconnected from their readers.
As he attempts to cheat death steaming around the world on his Boeing Business Jet, Mr Murdoch apparently believes he can charge people to read The Times online! Ha! Not when the BBC is giving away commodity news for which, in a perverse paradox, you can be sent to jail if you don’t pay!