Four in ten think worse of Cameron after phone-hacking

However, polls show a mixed picture, as Tories suffer only a small negative effect.

Two polls today show contradictory results for the two main parties in the aftermath of the phone-hacking crisis.

An ICM/Guardian poll shows Labour down since before the scandal broke, at 36 points to the Conservatives' 37. This is the first time the Tories have had the lead in an ICM poll in months, although Labour's three-point drop is due to a rise in Lib Dem support, not Tory. By contrast, a Populus poll for the Times (£) shows the Conservatives sharply down, with 34 points to Labour's 39. This is down five points on last month, and the lowest in a Populus poll since the coalition was formed. Despite this drop, however, Labour did not appear to have benefitted, and at 39 were a point down on last month.

The Populus poll found that four out of ten members of the public (39 per cent) said they thought worse of David Cameron as a result of the last fortnight's revelations, while 55 per cent said their view of him was unchanged.

Just 14 per cent said their view of Ed Miliband had improved as a result of the phone-hacking scandal, while 20 per cent said it had gone down, and 61 per cent were unchanged. Westminster and media circles have lauded Miliband's handling of the crisis and say that it has reinvigorated his leadership of the party. This result may indicate that this has not filtered through to the public as much as Labour had hoped.

The ICM poll is similarly disheartening for Miliband. The group phrased its question on the leaders differently; UK Polling Report explains that questions of the type asked by Populus "tend to give misleading results -- people who never liked a politician to start with say it's made their view worse and vice-versa."

Instead, ICM asked people for approval ratings before and after the event, and found that Cameron remains more popular than either his government or other leading politicians, although more people think he is doing a bad job than a good one. 43 per cent of voters say he is doing a good job, while 48 per cent say bad job, both up one point from last month. This gives him a net negative rating of -5.

By contrast, just 31 per cent say Miliband is doing a good job -- although this is up three points on last month -- while 47 per cent say he is doing a bad job, down two. This means his net rating is -16, up from -21 last month. It's a significant improvement, but there is a long way to go yet. The positive reaction to Miliband's handling of the crisis is stronger among Labour supporterss, 58 per cent now think he is doing a good job, compared with 45 per cent last month.

While the picture from these polls is mixed, we can draw the following conclusions: the Tories have, so far at least, suffered only a small negative effect in the polls because of the crisis. While a majority of the public thinks that Cameron has handled the crisis badly, his broader approval ratings are holding up and -- crucially -- are still substantially ahead of both Miliband and Nick Clegg. Miliband has certainly seen a boost in how the public perceive him, but he still has a long way to go to catch up with Cameron, and this bounce has not been reflected in greater support for Labour. It remains to be seen whether Miliband can capitalise on these modest gains when the news agenda moves on.

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