Press Gazette's top 50 comment writers

Print journalists dominate the list of the UK's top commentators.

This month's Press Gazette contains a list of the UK's top 50 comment journalists, rated by the public and a sample of comment journalists.

The top ten is as follows:

1. Matthew Parris, Times
2. Simon Jenkins, Evening Standard, Guardian
3. Jeremy Clarkson, Sunday Times, Sun
4. Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
5. Polly Toynbee, Guardian
6. Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail
7. Charlie Brooker, Guardian
8. Rachel Sylvester, Times
9. Janice Turner, Times
10. Rod Liddle, Sunday Times

What really jumps out about this list is that they're all print journalists, even though both sets of respondents were allowed to name bloggers. In fact, 38.1 per cent of those surveyed (the biggest proportion) said that they preferred reading comment pieces in print.

This is reflected across the whole top 50 -- the only blogger who made it on to the list was Stephen Fry (at number 42), mainly from the public vote.

Jeremy Clarkson was also included by virtue of the popular vote. He was the public's favourite commentator, but received no votes from the panel of journalists. The controversial Clarkson is an increasingly influential media player, ranking 74 on the Guardian's list of top 100 media figures in 2007.

A survey last November by Continental Research suggested his Sun column was the one that consumers would be most willing to pay to read online.

The public's top two were Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn, showing that their taste diverges somewhat from the reasoned comment favoured by the panel of journalists (their top two were Simon Jenkins and Matthew Parris). Perhaps there are lessons to be learned there.

Finally, some shameless self-promotion. Two New Statesman columnists also made it on to on the list -- Steve Richards (31) and Peter Wilby (44).

Press Gazette is owned by Progressive Media, which also owns the New Statesman.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.