Voters cannot see Ed Miliband in power

The latest poll highlights the challenges that the Labour leader faces in Liverpool.

The Times has released its annual pre-conference poll (£), and it shows that Ed Miliband is still failing to command the support of his party.

The headline figures in the Populus poll show Labour holding the lead, with 38 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives are four points behind with 34 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats are on 12.

According to the poll, 63 per cent of the public cannot see Miliband as prime minister. Clearly, nearly a year after becoming Labour leader, Miliband is still struggling to connect with the public

Perhaps more worryingly -- and this is the figure the Times has focused on -- is that 49 per cent of Labour supporters also hold this view, with 22 per cent "strongly" agreeing. On this point, Labour voters are divided, as the other half - 47 per cent - believe that Miliband will be elected.

These figures are not good, and highlight the challenges faced by Miliband at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool this year. In his speech to delegates, he must try to define his leadership. While he has been praised for his reaction to events such as phone-hacking, there is doubt about whether this has reverberated outside the Westminster village, and he has yet to set out a clear programme for his party.

Labour holds the lead in the polls, but this is largely due to a drop in Tory support rather than positive gains. With his personal approval ratings still trailing behind David Cameron and Nick Clegg's, Miliband must convince his own party of his viability as a leader before he can convince the public.

UPDATE: 13.46

I've just had a call from Ed's press office, who are keen to highlight the fact that Ipsos MORI gives Miliband the highest net personal rating of the three leaders. These ratings give Clegg -25, Cameron -12, and Miliband -7. They also point out that this is almost exactly the same as Cameron's ratings after one year as leader, when his net approval was -6, and that Miliband's satisfaction rate of 36 per cent is higher than Cameron's was at any time until October 2007, when he had been leader for two years.

 

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.