Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nationalise EMI, says Dubber

Let's file Andrew Dubber's call to nationalise EMI as a thought experiment rather a serious proposal. But it is a thought experiment that's more thought through than, say, seemingly anything Graham Coxon says these days:

After all, a case could be made that things that are of significant worth to the British public, economically and culturally speaking, should theoretically be in the ownership of the British public. Especially when those assets are under serious threat as a result of private ownership mismanagement and ‘market conditions’.

Rather than have the rights to some of the most important British cultural treasures in the hands of a billionaire tax exile, a private equity firm and a transnational bank – and in imminent danger of having them simply flogged off to who knows where just to dispense with what has become, in financial terms, a ‘toxic asset’ – it would make sense to put them into public ownership.

It's interesting to ponder how this could work - Dubber points to the BPI's constant crowing of how important music exports are as to bolster the argument that EMI shouldn't fail; you could also suggest that as some in the industry want to make music more like a utility, it would make sense to treat it like any other utility. (Hey - this is a thought-experiment-world; I renationalised the gas, electric, water and phones before even mentioning Graham Coxon.)

Protecting employment in the UK would be a wise thing for the government to do; and a call to protect valuable cultural assets equally so. But should Her Majesty's government really be in the business of sending out A&R men to watch Spiggy And The Tater Tots to decide if they should get a deal. Can you imagine the attempts by the government of the day to curry favour with voters by signing just anyone in the six months prior to an election? You'd end up with Pixie Lott making records. (Thought-experiment-world; she's better off studying for a law degree.)

And would a government-run EMI take even the few lame risks that a major label would these days? Had Wilson taken the label under the national wing in the 70s, would HMG's EMI have ever released The Sex Pistols? Go on, picture Callaghan standing up at Question Time to explain to Thatcher why he was signing off on that.

There are also obvious worries about how far a state-owned EMI would dominate the market place. Personally, I could care less - but using tax money to bail out Guy Hands would never get past the EU.

Here's another proposal though: other parts of the cultural framework are preserved under bodies like the National Trust, the National Gallery and so on. Maybe that's where the future would work best for EMI. The question would be how you would clear the company of all that debt in order to pass it over to a charitable concern?