David Cameron speaks to supporters during the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto on April 17, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tetchy Cameron dials up SNP attack by warning English voters would lose out

The PM suggested that a Labour government reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects outside of Scotland. 

Since the election campaign began, David Cameron has been accused of lacking passion and of being "too posh to push". His manner on today's Andrew Marr show seemed like a conscious attempt to rebut this charge. "I'm angry and animated!" he declared at one point, lest anyone fail to notice. At moments, he rather too closely resembled an under-pressure chief executive or football manager facing the sack (repeatedly interrupting his interlocutor). But Cameron clearly believes that raising the rhetorical stakes is his best means of retaining power. 

The opening of the interview saw him dramatically dial up the SNP attack, warning of the "frightening prospect" of a party that "wouldn't care about what happenened in the rest of the country" holding sway over a Labour government. In an attempt to make the danger less abstract, he suggested that an administration reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects in England, referring to "People thinking in their own constituencies 'Is that bypass going to be built? Will my hospital get the money it needs?'"

But while excoriating Miliband for refusing to rule out a loose arrangement with the SNP (though the Labour leader is more likely, as I wrote on Friday, to simply call their bluff), Cameron took an equally ambiguous stance towards Ukip. Asked to rule out a deal with Nigel Farage, he merely replied: "We're not planning to do deals with anybody". Since polls show that voters are more concerned by Ukip holding influence in a hung parliament than the SNP (42 per cent against 27 per cent in a recent MORI poll), this is a weakness Labour should repeatedly exploit. 

With Cameron currently on course to lose office, the Tories have resolved that their best hope of persuading wavering voters is to repeatedly play the SNP card - in an ever more apocalyptic manner. In particular, they hope that this will win over two key groups: Ukip defectors and southern Lib Dems. Whether or not the fear factor works, it is a disreputable campaign that only further undermines the long-term future of the Union. (As Marr observed at one point, Cameron sounded like an "English nationalist".) The Tories may yet retain power but they have already lost honour. 

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.