From Peerage to Porridge
So, down goes Lord Conrad Black! Go straight to jail, do not pass cheques, do not collect any more news titles, or er...titles. Such is the price of his penchant for private jets, luxury homes around the world, and $4,000 towel warmers.
Not forgetting - as some of the media kindly did this weekend - his high-maintenance and over-ambitious trophy columnist Barbara Amiel.
The pair got away with many things, but not with defrauding shareholders and treating the company's resources as his personal piggy-bank or petty cash drawer. Not, apparently in the United States, the home maybe of modern capitalism but without the deference to titled rip-off merchants, from a Chicago court, that might have been shown here in 'Labour' Britain. He might not even get to enjoy the country-club privileged open prison treatment that some of our wealthy gents have found a cure for Alzheimers.
As with Robert Maxwell, after he disappeared apparently to his watery end (cue for jokes about liquidity, floating shares etc) other media bosses now find it possible to condemn the man, or at least shake their heads over his inquity, while probably breathing a sigh of relief that they themselves were not caught.
It's not that nobody knew anything untoward about Black or his spouse before.
Here's an item published fifteen years ago, in the Dybbuk's Diary column of Jewish Socialist magazine:
PIT BULLS AND PRESS BARONS
In a free country, if you don't like a newspaper's opinions you can buy another paper, they say. Or, if you're rich enough, you can buy the paper. The Jerusalem Post escaped Robert Maxwell's clutches only to fall into those of Conrad Black's Canadian-based Hollinger corporation, and have its previously liberal-Labour inclinations adjusted accordingly.
Black, proprietor of Telegraph newspapers and owner of a stake in the Star and Daily Express, hasn't been as successful as the late Captain Bob in all respects. When he took over Dominion stores in Ontario, shutting shops and sacking workers, he announced that with fewer staff there needn't be such a big pension fund, so the surplus could be transferred to the company. Canada's shopworkers' union didn't go along with this, and successfully took Black to court for the money. Black's a generous chap, though, really. He gave his friend Margaret Thatcher a directorship to supplement her pension. He has helped out fellow-canucks at Olympia and York by moving the Telegraph to Canary Wharf. After his divorce came through in June he wed thrice-married Barbara Amiel, though not quite making an honest woman of her.
Last November, Canadian-import Amiel was writing in her Sunday Times column how 'We' (British) 'give tolerance to newcomers', but must make it clear we won't alter 'our principles' to resemble 'the habits,principles and cultures of the region from which they come'. The following month, scorning feminists for notions like marital or date rape, Amiel wrote that if women were 'overpowered and forced to have sex', this was merely part of 'normal courtship patterns'.
Guesting in the Jewish Chronicle, Amiel took umbrage at the TUC for attempting to oppose antisemitism. Jews could do without trade unions, she advised, and, if they encountered problems at work, could always set up on their own. Amiel also attacked moves to outlaw dangerous dogs like rottweilers and pit bull terriers. Now she's given her hand to the man whom Ontario's premier Bob Rae once called 'that most symbolic representative of bloated capitalism at its worst'. I'm sure they deserve each other.
(Jewish Socialist, no.27, September-December 1992)
Now the pair have come a cropper, I am wondering how the Conservative Conrad will get along with the other cons, assuming they will have to mix. It would make for a great follow-up to Porridge. We could take the liberty of having our main character doing his time in some bleak moorland British prison. Pity Ronnie Barker is no longer around to play the old lag teaching the press lord the ropes. I can imagine the episode where Barbara Amiel has to take her seat on the bus with the other wives and girlfriends making the journey to visit hubby inside.
Schadenfreude? I don't know the meaning of the word.