Commons Confidential: Is Boris heading for a seat in Kensington?

PLUS: Why Bob Crow turned down <em>Big Brother</em>.

Most Tory MPs I’ve spoken to expect Boris Johnson to break another promise and stand in a safe Tory seat at the May 2015 election, doubling for a year as Mayor of London. Parliament would be his entry ticket to the Conservative leadership raffle, should the blond ambition’s Buller junior David Cameron lose at the polls. A place in cabinet would be Johnson’s consolation prize should – splutter, ruffles hair, crikey! –Dave triumph. Johnson must find, of course, a desirable Tory constituency. Noblesse oblige is likely to see another Old Etonian, Frank “Zac” Goldsmith, seek a second term in Richmond Park. The gossip on the House of Commons terrace before MPs went on their hols was of Johnson popping up in Kensington. It’s in London, posh, rock-solid Tory; the sitting tenant, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, will be nudging 69 next time. And the local worthies value flamboyance: Alan Clark and Michael Portillo were among the past picks. We’ll see.
 
Labour MPs have taken to calling their leader’s youthful team “Ed’s crèche”, as the fallout over ending not mending (or was it the other way round?) union links continues. The trade union group of MPs, the party’s biggest backbench group, if hitherto a sleeping giant, is to re-form in the autumn. The draft statement of aims prizes Labour’s industrial ties, a direction of travel likely to have Miliband reaching for the antihistamines.
 
I discovered that the hapless Tory Aidan Burley –dumped as a parliamentary aide over a Nazi-themed stag do before dismissing Danny Boyle’s widely applauded Olympic opening ceremony as “lefty multicultural crap” – has quietly left the all-party work and pensions committee. I’m not surprised. A stentorian Glenda Jackson took a dislike to Burley, dismissing the underling with Oscar-winning contempt. Young Burley was well and truly Glenda’d.
 
Labour spent £6.54 for each vote won in the South Shields by-election by the victorious local lass Emma Lewell-Buck. The Shields Gazette calculated that Ukip’s second place cost it £7.97 a vote, with the Cons, a poor third, shelling out a mere £1.85 a throw. The biggest losers were the Lib Dems, each cross on a ballot paper for the yellow peril a cofferemptying £17.91 – with an embarrassing seventh place in return. Austerity doesn’t start at home for Nick Clegg.
 
Bob Crow the cockney express, Britain’s most recognisable trade union general secretary, turned down Big Brother. The railway workers’ leader rejected a large wad of notes waved in front of his nose to entice him into the TV madhouse. I for one can’t see Crowbar in a Lycra catsuit.
 
This column is taking its annual summer break and will be back the week before the TUC kicks off the political conference season.
 
Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror 
A seat in Kensington would be Boris's entry to the Conservative leadership raffle. Photograph: Getty Images

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 29 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue

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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.