Ed Davey: this is a pro-European coalition

Lib Dem Energy Secretary claims the government is more pro-European than Labour was.

For those Tories convinced that David Cameron has sold out to the europhile Lib Dems, Ed Davey's interview with Rafael Behr [which appears in this week's New Statesman] is powerful evidence. The Energy Secretary declares that the coalition may come to be seen as "more constructive, more engaged and indeed more pro-European than its Labour predecessor".

He mischievously adds:

It's not just Liberal Democrat ministers but Conservative ministers who are really engaged with their European counterparts.

Some of the relationships that he [Cameron] is building are very important. What the coalition government is showing time and again is that by engaging with Europe you actually look after Britain’s national interest more effectively.

His comments are tailor-made to provoke a eurosceptic backlash against Cameron - many Tory MPs are still furious that the Prime Minister hasn't delivered on his promise to "repatriate powers" from Brussels.

Elsewhere, Davey insists that Britain could still join the euro in the future [if not before 2020]:

You’d be an unwise person to ever rule something out totally.

You just don’t know what’s going to happen and given the uncertainties in our economy, I think it would be reckless to rule any of your options out.

It's notable that the Lib Dems are now the only one of the three main parties not to rule out euro membership. For Labour, Ed Balls has declared that "there's no possibility anytime in my lifetime of a British government joining the euro", while the Tories have long ruled out membership of the single currency. 

But Davey is far from the only political figure to suggest we could still give up the pound. Here's a list of some of the most notable.

Tony Blair, 13 November 2011

"I think we will join the euro. I think the chances are the euro will survive because the determination, particularly of the French and the Germans, is to maintain the coherence that they've created in Europe."

Michael Heseltine, 20 November 2011

"So should Britain join the euro now? Of course not. But we should not exclude the possibility. This is what separates us from the eurosceptics. We still say that if it becomes in Britain's interest to join we should. They say that even if it were in Britain's interest to join we shouldn't.This could -- sooner than we think -- become much more than just an academic question."

Paddy Ashdown, 21 November 2011 (£)

"If and when the economic circumstances were right and to Britain's advantage, we should certainly consider doing so [joining the euro]."

Peter Mandelson, 14 November 2011

"He [David Cameron] should say that while it was right for Britain not to join the single currency as it was previously constructed, if Germany were to act responsibly, Britain would peg sterling to a reformed euro and in the long run even consider joining the regime."

Ken Clarke, 25 July 2011

"Certainly nothing is going to happen in the next decade but I find never say never in politics is a very good rule".

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said it would be "reckless" to rule out euro membership.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.