In writing about the RedBird IMI bid for the Telegraph Group and The Spectator, its opponents – your columnist very much included – emphasise the danger that the real buyers, the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, could use their purchase to put political or commercial pressure on the British government. But there is also a danger the other way round. If Abu Dhabi owned the titles, I would not put it past any British government (of any party) to put pressure on the Arabs. ‘Look here,’ I can imagine some prime minister saying: ‘Of course, we’d like to sell you a stake in our power stations/electric vehicles/5G networks [or whatever], but it’s very difficult for us to help while you let your titles criticise us so unfairly.’ That would be the sort of language any Gulf state would understand.
If a future British government did frame such requests, they would probably convey them to Dr Sultan Al Jaber. Dr Sultan is IMI’s main man of business, and a man of many parts, being his country’s minister of industry and advanced technology, head of its renewable energy company and of its national oil company, and therefore perfectly placed to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds as head of the COP28 in Dubai which ended this week. He is also the country’s former chief censor (not, of course, so named) and something of a diplomat. In St Petersburg in June, Dr Sultan was among those who met President Vladimir Putin ‘to build bridges and foster positive partnerships to ensure regional and international security and stability’. He will instinctively recognise the need for any British papers which his company owns to be flexible wherever the interests of his country are seriously engaged.
To my surprise, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the three Ivy League presidents (what we would call vice-chancellors) who appeared before the House of Representatives education committee last week.