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The Rover tragedy turns into farce

The Babylon dictionary defines a Greek Tragedy as an ancient drama in which the protagonist meets with disaster. The audience knows this from the start, but the main characters don’t, either through ignorance or because they are too dim to see the blindingly obvious until it’s too late.

Britain’s last home-grown volume carmaker was MG Rover. In 1996, for reasons nobody can now remember, the business was bought by BMW, one of the very few carmakers in the world with a clear idea of what it is trying to do. When it saw its terrible mistake, it proposed paying 500 million pounds to the workforce to shut the Longbridge, Birmingham, plant where Rover cars were made.

That was a decade ago. Enter Jon Moulton of Alchemy Partners, who proposed shutting the Rover line, firing the workforce and making MGs on a corner of the site while developing the rest. Onto the stage came John Towers, a 52-year-old Rover veteran and a man with a plan to save all of Rover’s 8,000 jobs. Goodness, thought Stephen Byers, the man going through the revolving door at the department of trade at the time, this gets me round the next corner.

Some of us in the audience could already see the tragedy. Then as now, the motor trade had chronic overcapacity, and Rover was the no-hope brand of a subscale manufacturer. Putting the dog down was the obvious, humane, solution. Alas, nobody on stage would see this, and so the poor old mutt limped on.

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