So who killed MG Rover?

The death of a factory and the end of a great tradition. It has brought misery to the hard-working employees at Longbridge. Conspiracy theorists have been looking for scapegoats. Sean O'Grady looks at the suspects...
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British Aerospace

British Aerospace

Picked up Rover Group for a song when the Thatcher government finally managed to off-load what was then a state-owned company onto its friends at BAE. Key assets such as land at Canley and Cowley were sold off and the volume cars business starved of investment. Increased reliance on Honda which at least meant healthy sales.

Verdict: Guilty of negligence

BMW

Personified by chief executive, Bernd Pischetsrieder. BAE sold Rover to BMW in 1994 for £800m. It brutally cut the 15-year link with Honda. BMW wasn't so patient with the big losses, but had they held their nerve, Rover showrooms today globally would have the new Mini, new Rovers 45 and 75 plus the new Land and Range Rovers.

Verdict: Guilty, but with extenuating circumstances

The media

It's true that some journalists carried on knocking British cars long after their substance and quality had improved. Jeremy Clarkson in particular comes in for unprintable abuse for his views on the MG Rover web forums (see www.mg-rover.org). Yet many, such as this journal, gave the home team a fair trial and the cars did have faults.

Verdict: Not guilty; don't shoot the messengers

Government

Mostly New Labour, but the blame game stretches back to the 1960s, when Harold Wilson and Tony Benn encouraged the formation of the disastrous British Leyland, nationalised in 1975. Mrs Thatcher paid in cash reluctantly and sold it off cheaply. Stephen Byers backed Phoenix ahead of Alchemy (with hindsight an error). Patricia Hewitt jumped the gun on administration.

Verdict: Not proven

The police

MG Rover fans rallying to the cause were gobsmacked to find French police cars even outside Longbridge itself. No special favours are asked, but there is genuine puzzlement as to public procurement policy. EU rules demand a level playing field, but other countries seem better at backing their indigenous industries. Still, it wouldn't have saved the company.

Verdict: Guilty of aiding and abetting

Phoenix Four

The four directors who bought Rover from BMW for £10. John Towers was the most prominent. Innocent of criminal charges, but their public relations were a disaster, taking £40m out. Unlucky to see partners TWR go bust and deals with China Brilliance and Proton fail before the Shanghai talks. Should have gone for broke with the new 45 in 2000.

Verdict: Guilty of corporate manslaughter

The public

Thirty years ago, British cars were unreliable and badly made. We insisted on buying them. Now they are miles better, but we persistently refuse even to consider them. Think about your own car choice. Did you even think of an MG or Rover? Then again, maybe you've had a K-series-engined car that suffered catastrophic head gasket failure or a rotten dealer.

Verdict: We are all to blame

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