Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Labour can turn NHS scandal into success (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Miliband’s response to the Francis report on the Mid Staffordshire scandal could be the first step towards a Labour victory in 2015, says Mary Riddell.

2. Same-sex marriage vote: on the wrong side of history (Guardian)

The passing of the bill in the Commons was the latest climax in a disintegrating crisis of Conservative party credibility, says a Guardian editorial.

3. Cameron has sown needless discord (Daily Telegraph)

With the vote on gay marriage, the Prime Minister bounced his party into a reform for which there was no popular pressure, argues a Telegraph leader.

4. Japan can put people before profits (Financial Times)

The key to a better-balanced economy is to take surplus profits away from a corporate oligopoly, writes Martin Wolf.

5. Trident is no longer key to Britain’s security (Daily Telegraph)

Like-for-like renewal of our nuclear deterrent is neither strategically sound nor economically viable, write Des Browne and Ian Kearns.

6. It’s human to dread change and fear loss (Times) (£)

Good conservatives understand the value of tradition, but know when to welcome gay marriage or shopping malls, writes Daniel Finkelstein. 

7. Tory metrosexuals won the gay marriage vote – but at what cost? (Guardian)

 I agree that gay marriage is right, says Simon Jenkins. But the true test of tolerance lies in its treatment of intolerance – and we failed that test.

8. The Bank of England's new Governor is about to face a grilling, but what will the markets make of him? (Independent)

Mark Carney is eager to look for new policies to promote growth, writes Hamish McRae. Whether he can succeed is another issue.

9. Britain is a proud monarchy, and as such it must treat its former sovereigns with the respect owed to the office they held (Daily Mail)

The government  should grasp this moment to light the imagination of the nation, by holding a state funeral for Richard III at Westminster Abbey, says Andrew Roberts.

10. Ageing taxpayers owe the iPod generation (Financial Times)

Tax reform is crucial for Britain’s youth, writes Nick Bosanquet.

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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.