Of more importance is the revelation in today's Sunday Mercury that Julie Kirkbride and the 'flamboyant' (Copyright all papers) John Hemming were both offered free cars from the Rover company in 2003, apparently in return for their silence over the corporate mismanagement. One question springs to mind - why did it take both of them until now to bring this to the attention of the public?
Aside from the fact that the question remains unanswered - John was perhaps sorting out his complex personal life, another question comes to mind.
John and Julie both thought that the offer of a free car was to shut them up about the mismanagement within the MG Rover Group. They felt that it would compromise them to accept the offer, so both, quite rightly and ethically, refused it. (It hurts me to admit that a Tory MP and a Liberal Democrat councillor actually behaved properly, but I'll let it pass). This happened in 2003, when John was merely the leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and Labour still controlled the council, so that probably explains why he wasn't offered a top of the range sports car. The fact remains, though, that neither of those elected officials thought it right and proper to accept the offer from Rover.
Two years on in the first few months of 2005, MG Rover's financial troubles are an open secret - at the end of 2004, Land Rover were busy stockpiling engines and a number of senior people took redundancy packages, quite apart from the Phoenix Four cheerfully flogging off the core treasure of the company, the intellectual property rights.
So Mike Whitless goes to Rover to negotiate a deal for Birmingham City Council employees to buy cars at a discount - trying to throw the company a lifeline. At the same time, he mentions that he's interested in buying a car, so Rover throw the keys to the SV at him, giving it to him on loan. Most of us are lucky if we get an extended test drive from our car suppliers, but he's had his for weeks, with no sign of it being returned.
Unlike his colleague (now deputy leader), John Hemming, Mike sees no conflict in accepting this free loan and then fails to register it in the public record. He clearly feels that this doesn't compromise his role as leader of the council and member of the Rover Task Force. Weirdly, he doesn't even see the political fallout from hanging onto this £65,000 car as Rover workers are forced to return their family cars to the administrators.