Boris deepens his struggle against a third Heathrow runway

Mayor of London tells supporters of a third runway: "you're completely wrong, you will be defeated".

As the government-commissioned Davies report into aviaition capacity is officially launched, Boris Johnson has just used an appearance on the Today programme to deepen his struggle against a third runway at Heathrow. To supporters of the proposal, which Howard Davies's commission will consider, the Mayor of London declared: "you're completely wrong, you will be defeated."

Observing that almost every politician in London was elected on a mandate to rule out a third runway, he said it would be "politically toxic ... it will go down incredibly badly in London, it will lead to a significant erosion of the quality of life for the people in London." The problem with a third runway, he argued, is that a fourth would be soon be needed - and where would that go? He went on: "The runway at Heathrow simply will not happen ... There is absolutely no need for us to delay to 2015. Can I tell you, in the next nine years, how many runways they’re going to build in China? They’re going to build 52. How many in the UK? None at all. It is a policy of utter inertia."

The aim of the Davies report, as with most government inquiries, is to achieve a political consensus. But with Boris unequivocally opposed to a third runway (the preferred option of several senior ministers, including George Osborne) Labour sceptical (Ed Miliband almost resigned from the Brown government over the policy), and the Lib Dems opposed to any new runways at London's airports as well as "Boris island", there seems little prospect of that. Rarely has an inquiry been so undermined before it has even begun.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said a third runway at Heathrow would be "a complete disaster for the people of London". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political 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.