Cambo in Cornwall (egged!)

Election 2010: Guffwatch!

Cambo is at his best, you might say, when surrounded by not-wildly-interested-looking students at a college in Cornwall (one of whom then egged him). He is Extremely Upbeat. He couldn't be less interested in the polls (ha ha). I've seen them go up and down, he says. I've been ten points ahead, ten points behind. What I really care about is the poll on 6 May, he sweatily grins.

I like the idea of Cambo swatting new polls away with a careless flick, glass of Pimms in one hand and the new Ian McEwan in the other. "I don't give a monkeys, Andy, " he might say, as Coulson gnashes his teeth.

Back to reality, and Cambo took a lot of entirely unscripted, spontaneous and not-planted-by-a-Tory-party-official questions from the Cornwall lot, including things like, "How is Labour rubbish?" and "How are you going to make everything brilliant?" (minor translations).

Guff emerged along the way, as it will. I particularly liked the subtle rebranding that has been taking place. "How do you get real change?" Cambo demanded of his audience, vote Tory being the expected reply. You've got to pity the guy: how do you differentiate yourself from those darn interfering interlopers, the Lib Dems, who nicked the "change" line. I know, thinks Cambo! We'll offer "real change"! Not fake, Clegg-shaped change which has been knocked off a production line in a Chinese factory (ooh, China, that'll scare them). So there we have it. If you want change, vote Lib Dem. If you want REAL change, it's Cambo all the way.

There's something else Cambo does a lot. Numbers. No, not the economy, not jobs, not taxes. More like, the number of times he's been to Afghanistan (four). The number of times he's met the Israeli prime minister (four or five). The number of times he's met the president of the Palestinian National Authority (many, many). There he is, counting away. Look at me! Look how many times I do things!

Number of times Cambo's been egged on the campaign trail. Just the once so far.

 

Sophie Elmhirst is features 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.