Nadine Dorries's readmission shows Cameron is running scared of UKIP

The timing of the move is a political gift to Ed Miliband.

Six months after the Conservative whip was suspended from Nadine Dorries following her stint on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, it has finally been reinstated. It's undoubtedly the right decision, but the timing of the move is awkward for Cameron. Only after rumours that the MP for Bedfordshire was considering defecting to UKIP (now confirmed by Dorries) was she brought back into the Conservative fold. As I reported last week, the Tory whips have been pushing for her readmission for months but George Osborne, who was still furious about Dorries's "arrogant posh boys" barb, was unwilling to back down. Now, with Nigel Farage threatening to secure her services, he has curiously had a change of heart. As the Spectator's Isabel Hardman (who broke the story) points out, it says little about the leadership's principles that the decision was entirely motivated by political considerations, rather than out of concern for Dorries. 

The timing of the move is also a gift to Ed Miliband, who mocked the Tories for running scared of UKIP in his response to the Queen's Speech. After Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg called for a pact or coalition with Farage's party, Miliband quipped: "They used to call them clowns. Now they want to join the circus." He went on: "The whole point of the Prime Minister’s Europe speech in January was to ‘head off UKIP’. Tory MPs were crowing that the UKIP fox had been shot. It was job done. Mission accomplished. Only it wasn’t. The lesson for the Prime Minister is you can’t out-Farage Farage."

The Dorries move allows Miliband to claim that, in addition to determining the Conservative Party's EU policy, the UKIP leader now also dictates who can and can't be a Tory MP. Farage may not yet be in office, but he is most certainly in power. 

Nadine Dorries was suspended from the Conservative Party after appearing on ITV's I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.