The Telegraph and the Spectator (TMG) are up for sale as Lloyds Bank calls in the receivers after a dispute with TMG owners, the Barclay family, over debts of nearly £1bn. Before you get too excited, this is not the end of the Torygraph. Potential buyers include Rupert Murdoch, the Daily Mail, GB News, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, and Sovereign Wealth Funds from the Gulf States. Then there are European media giants like Mediahuis, owner of the Dutch title, ‘De Telegraaf’ and Axel Springer who have acquired online news outlets Politico and The Business Insider which, given the Torygraph’s Brexit stance, would give a new twist to ‘taking back control’!
The background to the sale begins in 2004 when the Barclay Brothers borrowed heavily to acquire the Telegraph for £665m. Then in the financial crisis of 2008 Lloyds Bank acquired HBOS and all its assets, including outstanding loans made to the Barclay Brothers. These have never been repaid, and the interest continues to pile up. Following David’s death in 2021 the families of the two brothers have been in dispute over their business empire. Subsequent court hearings have drawn attention to their business practices, which may have prompted Lloyds to finally call in their debts.
One judge said, “In 2014, the two brothers set about dividing what they had so as to make provision for the next generation and with the intention of avoiding tax liabilities arising either in life or death.” This took the form of highly complex overseas trust arrangements
This came up in a dispute between Sir Frederick and his ex-wife, when his main financial asset was his ownership of the tiny Channel Island of Brecqhou, complete with a mock castle built at a cost of around £100m. He was also chastised by the judge for ignoring a court order by selling a luxury yacht and disposing of the money for himself.
These are the sort of people who rule Britain. People who enjoy massive personal wealth which can never be traced. They refuse to pay their debts. They engage in tax evasion on an industrial scale. They break the law with impunity. We only get to hear about it when thieves fall out and they fight it out in court.
If this is the beginning of the end for the Barclay Empire, it is no cause for celebration. Businesses will go to the wall, pension funds will take a hit and workers will lose their jobs. But for the super-rich owners life will go on as usual. Paradoxically, TMG should emerge relatively unscathed. It has a sound business model and is showing a healthy profit. So who will be the successful buyers? The smart money is on DMTG, owners of the Daily Mail. Murdoch could go for the Spectator to increase his influence inside the Tory party. So business as usual then.
I find it hard to agree with media correspondent, Ian Burrell, when he states that this “will fundamentally change the power balance in British media”. The fundamental power balance is not between competing billionaires with shared agendas. It is between the British public, who used to rely upon the media for honest reporting that held the rich and powerful to account, and a capitalist class that uses its wealth to buy up the media and stifle dissent with the consent of timid client journalists.
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