Top 10 Politicians' Christmas cards

The Staggers verdict on cards sent from seats of power around the world

It's that time of the year again, when politicians carry out their festive duty.

Politicians being politicians, few shy away from such a valuable message-sending opportunity. The cards range from the political to the progressive, from those that double up to benefit charity to others that remain ambiguously open to interpretation.

Scroll down for a New Statesman look at politicians' Christmas cards from Britain and abroad.

 

1. From the US president, Barack Obama, and the first lady, Michelle:

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Non-religious and stately. The message of the Obamas' first Christmas card -- "May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness", signed by Barack and Michelle Obama -- was apparently important enough to be discussed in Congress. Well, at least now we know what they've really been doing with their time.

 

2. From the Canadian Liberal MP Scott Brison:

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From the sound of it, there really shouldn't be that much fuss about this card, which Brison sent to 5,000 of his friends and constituents. Gorgeous landscape, adorable golden retriever, happy good-looking couple -- but this is also known as the "Brokeback Brison" card because Brison is Canada's first gay MP in a same-sex marriage. Since a story about the card ran, it has had an overwhelmingly homophobic response. The Globe and Mail news website, for one, had to shut down its comments section for the story.

Calling foul against critics is Brison, who protests: "I'm not the first politician to have a family picture on a Christmas card."

Fair enough.

 

3. From the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd:

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Another one to stay away from religious references is Rudd's. This does it in "good leftist style", says a man who received the card, Jon Ray. Possibly the strangest of the lot, it makes no mention of Christmas but instead features one of Brisbane's CityCat ferries, and the names of the city's suburbs.

Psychologists and card scrutinisers, feel free to give your verdict on this one.

 

4. From Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

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From 10 Downing Street comes this ambiguous card from Gordon Brown, who chose to feature a photograph taken by 19-year-old Jordan Mary, winner of the Young Environmental Photographer of the Year.

It hasn't gone down that well with critics. David Breaker, who gave the card a 1/12 rating, writes:"Surely it's never wise in politics to be involved with anything greatly diminished and hanging by a thread in a cold, frosty environment, populated only by prickly and poisonous things, all of which will be gone in the New Year?"

5. From the former prime minister Tony Blair:

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He may now "do God", but Tony Blair chooses to steer clear of religion, going for the narcissist's fallback option of printing one's picture on the cover.

 

6. From the Commons Speaker, John Bercow:

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Another Godless card yet again, posted on Guido's blog. Sweet kids, boring card.

 

7. From Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond:

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The card's cover, featuring a painting by the artist Gerard Burns titled A New Journey, has riled critics with its independence innuendo.

Said the Tory whip David McLetchie: "Alex Salmond is trying to politicise Christmas, having already attempted to politicise the Saltire, Scotland's national days and our children's education. His obsession with independence is blinding him to reality."

But kudos to Salmond for managing to portray McLetchie and other critics as overworked grumps.

Replied a spokesperson for Salmond: "Messrs McLetchie and Rumbles should lighten up and get with the Christmas spirit -- they are obviously badly in need of a festive break."

At least proceeds from sales of the painting will be going to charity.

 

8. From the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg:

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Smart move by Clegg to feature a innocently-sweet-and-all-things-nice drawing by his sons Antonio, eight, and Alberto, five.

"It is very sweet," mused the clinical psychologist Mr Bracey to the Times. "It's not conveying any political messages and is just simple and naive."

To criticise Clegg's card aesthetic quality would be Scrooge-like.

 

9. From the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

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Daredevil Johnson is the only one of the lot who has dared to say "Merry Christmas". London bus users may disagree.

 

10. From the Conservative leader, David Cameron:

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Sending a request to Santa here, Dave?

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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.