Dear Tim Sainsbury: After the Rover sale, we're almost a nation of shopkeepers. Even you should be worried, the industry minister is told

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I watched you on the news the other night announcing to the Commons the sale of yet another erstwhile piece of the family silver, this time to a buyer from Munich.

I don't blame you entirely, Tim. You are just the latest in a long line of ministers who has had to stand up in that lunatic asylum and defend the indefensible. Drip by drip the country has been gradually bled of its assets for longer than most of us care to remember. Vauxhall was taken over by General Motors before the war and even you might recall Chrysler gobbling up the Rootes Group. Remember it? It built the cars of our boyhood - the Humber Hawk, the Singer Gazelle, the Hillman Minx and the Sunbeam Rapier. Now this once proud factory at Ryton turns out Peugeots. Incidentally, how do you pronounce Peugeot? More recently, we have seen Jaguar and Aston Martin go to Ford while Lotus was taken over by General Motors before being sold on again to an Italian buyer - even if it was Bugatti.

But perhaps I am just being sentimental when I lament their passing into foreign hands. After all, aren't we all now part of the capitalist world system? And has not the arrival of the likes of Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Sony revitalised our ailing economy and given it a new competitive edge? Does it really matter any longer who owns Harrods, Rowntree, Sealink, Thomas Cook or even the Times as long as people are employed here?

Well, I have asked myself this question a lot recently and I cannot help feeling that in your heart of hearts you know that it does. It really is important to the national psyche (as well as trade) that we retain a sense of ownership - even if Rover had already been sold to British Aerospace. Only then can we have pride in ourselves like other nations have. The Swedes clearly do, for they have just pulled Volvo out from the clutches of the French.

We're all worried about how things are going and we still don't quite know what happened to our mines, our fishing fleets our merchant marine or our shipbuilding capacity. Yes, I know that there have been some success stories. But somehow it does not seem to matter that British Airways is the world's most profitable airline - especially when it buys Boeings fitted with General Electric rather than Rolls-Royce engines.

You see, Tim, what really worries us out here in the sticks is that we'll just become what Napoleon always said we were - a nation of shopkeepers. Except that we'll be shopkeepers selling products we didn't design, made in factories we don't own, to people on the dole.

It may be that with a name like yours this doesn't worry you. But it should. Haven't you heard that American and continental retailers are now opening here and breathing hard down the necks of Sainsbury's and Tesco's? Perhaps, ultimately, the House of Commons will be the last truly British owned institution left. And that says it all, doesn't it, Tim?

(Photograph omitted)