G7shambles continues

G7 <strike>attempts</strike> <strike>desperately scrambles</strike> utterly fails to find unity.

Yesterday's G7-shambles was only the beginning.

First, there was the statement co-signed, apparently, by all G7 nations, which appeared to support Japan's efforts to depress the Yen. Accordingly, the Yen fell slightly against the dollar.

Then, headlines on Bloomberg — attributed to "G7 OFFICAL" — suggested that that interpretation was exactly backwards. The statement was supposed to be a condemnation of Japan's alleged currency manipulation. And when that happened, the Yen soared:

Then a third official — British, this time, because it was us who put together the joint statement and the Bank of England which published it — said that no, it wasn't meant to be interpreted as "about an individual country or currency", and could we all just stop fretting please? Needless to say, that didn't go down brilliantly either.

The whole thing led to one of the most telling updates to a news headline I've ever seen, as the FT's "G7 attempts to defuse currency tensions" became "G7 fails to defuse currency tensions".

The whole move was an attempt to take a lead as the G7 governments arrive in Moscow for the G20 meeting this weekend, as Mark Carney, the next governor of the Bank of England, explained to the Canadian House of Commons yesterday:

We signed a statement, the minister of finance and I, ... which reaffirmed the commitment of the G7 to ensure that monetary policy is focused on domestic objectives, not on targeting exchange rates. And we hold the members of the G7 to that long-standing position. It is extremely important.

It's important that we as a G7 go in united and forcefully to the G20 to enlarge that commitment as quickly as possible amongst the major emerging economies in the G20, some of whom entirely ascribe to flexible exchange rates and are supportive, others who have a lot of work to do.

That seems less and less likely to be the case now. The goal for the G7 has receded from presenting a united face in order to convince developing economies of the benefits of free exchange rates, to just trying to get its own house in order.

*facepalm*. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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.