Nick Cohen implores us:
Please consider supporting the Guardian. You don’t have to agree with everything in the paper — no one does that — but if you don’t pay for real journalism, you will be left with fake news. (Apologies for the hard sell)
Nick is right. I don’t agree with everything in the paper. Nor do I agree with everything written in the Guardian Media Group’s other publication, The Observer. Especially by him.
But I don’t people to lose their jobs, and I do thing journalism at international scale, of the type provided by The Guardian Media Group, is important ot retain.
There is a pretty obvious way to combine these views — shared by many, I am sure — and come of with a deal which retains jobs AND improves journalistic output at the The Guardian and The Observer.
Let’s call it a Solidarity Takeover.
It works like this.
- As a Public Limited Company (plc) in the unusual position of having a single, non-profit shareholder (The Scott Trust Ltd), the Guardian Media Group can fairly straightforwardly ‘un-PLC’ itself and, via itself or via the Trust, submit an application to the Financial Conduct Authority. under the provisions of section 115 of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, to become a Charitable Community Benefit Society
- This done, the new Society is in a position to draw up and issue a prospectus for withdrawable shares to its readership (and then to institutional investors). This will need to be based on a business plan leading to a small (let’s say 2%) return in investment, and can lead to an inital raising of funds sufficient to put off the the current proposed job losses*.
- Withdrawable shares, regulated under Society Law, are different from the usual shares, regulated under Company Law in that the shareholder is not getting into the shares buy-and-sell business — they cannot be sold on, only withdrawn. This means that small investors, like out readership, can get involved more easily.
- Vitally, a Community Benefit Society must operate on a one shareholder- one vote basis, so someone with a £3 holding gets as much say as someone holding £10,000 of shares.
- So to cut to the quick, we see the digital begging bowl, in which the newspaper asks readers for subscription income but gives no say in the journalistic output, replaced with a model in which readers have a financial interest in the papers’ success, and control over how that might be achieved. e.g. by carrying less Nick Cohen articles and more be me, as well as seting rules around journalistic ethics e.g. to line up with the NUJ’s long-established, often ignored, code of conduct.
That’s the legal and financial mechanism, which my few regular readers will recognize as a read across from the current work on High Street takeover/buybacks I’m deeply involved in.**
But the other way of reading, for leftists who hate the Guardian, it is this.
The Guardian is a distressed asset. As leftwing vultures, we can swoop, and make it our. The time is ripe to copy the playbook of capital, and use our resources for ideological purpose when the level of distress is highest. But for company law, we use society law — that thing effectively invented in the red wall town of Rochdale in the 19th century.
And of course, if this catches on as an idea, and Guardian journalists get behind the idea, they can write about it as a model for the wider economy, and pretend it was their idea all along. That one’s on me.
So surely, surely, Guardian journalists who a) want a job; b) preach varieties of social ownership will want to get stuck in,, when both livelihood and political integrity depend on it.
*Timescales will almost certainly require a bridging loan, but that is what the government Coronavirus loan scheme, initially at 0% interest, is there for.
**In fact the Guardian rescue devised here will be a lot easier as there no need for an intermediary company making the legal link between Society Law community shares and the Company law shares ogf High Street firms. Apply for technical details.