Ed Miliband: "a thriving political culture and a thriving New Statesman go together"

Labour leader at the Statesman's centenary party.

Labour leader Ed Miliband paid tribute to the New Statesman’s role in creating a "thriving political culture" at a Westminster party to celebrate the magazine’s 100th anniversary last night.

And Miliband joked that the New Statesman made an "excellent choice in the Labour leadership contest [in 2010], one of three publications do so…one was a blog and the other was the Sunday People".

Noting that editor since 2008 Jason Cowley has increased print circulation in recent years, Miliband said that the title’s website now attracts around one million monthly readers, he said the New Statesman would probably have died after 85 years if it wasn’t for Geoffrey Robinson MP. He was proprietor until 2008 when the title was bought by Mike Danson’s Progressive Media (which also owns Press Gazette).

Describing the New Statesman as a magazine which has "an extraordinary history" he noted that it has a "complicated relationship with the Labour Party" and made somewhat shamefaced reference to his comment during Prime Ministers’s questions earlier this year when he said that David Cameron was "scraping the barrel" by quoting the New Statesman.

He said: "Sometimes Labour leaders make unflattering remarks about the New Statesman" and noted that Tony Blair included a veiled jibe against the magazine in his autobiography.

Saying that the New Statesman was important to the Labour Party, Miliband said: "Politics is not just about politicians, it’s about the ideas that shape the political culture of our country."

He noted that "both CND and Charter 88 come out of the New Statesman" and added that "a thriving political culture and a thriving New Statesman go together".

He said: "The unsung heroes of this magazine are the people who work for it. You don’t come and work for the New Statesman for the money, you do it because you care about our country and you care about our world…and it’s to them that I pay tribute to tonight."

This piece first appeared on Press Gazette.

Ed Miliband at the New Statesman's centenary party. Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

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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.