Press gang: Rich pickings

Submitted by Anon on 27 April, 2004 - 9:27

By Lucy Clement

This week in the newspapers we have two new minor celebrities: the Sleazy Senorita and the Cheating PA.
The Senorita, Rebecca Loos, has, she says, been having a fling with the England football captain David Beckham. The tabloids have been hinting at some affair or other for months and Ms Loos has clearly decided to kiss, tell, and take the cash.

The Cheating PA, Joyti De-Laurey, nicked £4.3 million from her bosses' bank accounts. The first time she pulled the scam, Ron Beller and Jennifer Moses, top bankers at City firm Goldman Sachs, didn't even notice. The million she took was pocket money to them. In a single year Mr Beller spent £86,000 on personal travel and £17,000 on wine. The pair liked De-Laurey so much that when they quit they recommended her to the new managing director, Edward Scott Mead.

De-Laurey took Scott Mead for another £3 million before he realised what she was up to. With the proceeds she'd bought a villa in Cyprus, three cars, jewellery, watches and more. She told her trial jury that he'd given her the cash in return for covering up an affair.

The two tales have all the important ingredients for a good tabloid tale. Sex, money and some very, very, rich people.

Such stories have the useful function for the capitalist press of keeping bad news (war in Iraq, for example) off the front pages. They distract from everyday life, from the real world. After all, if we're all busy deciphering the stars in "Becks has a **** on his ****" then we're not worrying quite so much about the fact that our child's school is crumbling, or that it'll be a week before we can see the doctor.

The tabloids' Beckham obsession has another function too - it creates a particular image of wealth in capitalist society. It says anyone can have this: you don't have to be born rich, or even clever, if you can play the ordinary game of football extraordinarily well then you too can have it all.

But in fact the Becks of this world are the exception to the rule of the rich. The real rich, who prefer not to appear in the papers, can be found in the small print of the tale of Joyti De-Laurey.

These are people like Edward Scott Mead, De-Laurey's second boss. He was educated at Phillips Academy, the US equivalent of Eton, then Harvard and Cambridge. At Goldman Sachs his first European deal involved advising the Spanish government on how best to privatise its phone system. He went on to advise Vodafone during its takeover of Mannesmann - the biggest hostile takeover in corporate history. His personal fortune is estimated to be more than £100 million.

Now, Joyti De-Laurey was no Robin Hood. She was out for herself. But if you think it's bad that she ended up with ten houses and three cars, what about the people she took the money off?

New Labour are very fond of telling us that it's just unreasonable to tax the rich. But hold on a minute. If Beller and Moses don't even notice that their money's gone, would it really hurt them so badly to pay a little bit more?

Scott Mead made his money by turning the Spanish phone system from a public service to a business run for profit. Every penny he got from his great Vodafone deal is paid for through lower wages for workers and higher bills for phone users.

And what, exactly, did he do to deserve this great fortune? Probably rather less than his secretary did to deserve her ill-gotten gains.

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