Theresa May criticised irresponsible behaviour by big business and put the housing, energy and broadband industries on notice for radical reforms in a speech that prompted comparisons with Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader.
In a speech steeped in rhetoric about the role of the government to bear down on irresponsible capitalism, the prime minister said she would tackle “unfairness” wherever she found it, from tax evasion to high household energy bills.
The government would be “coming after” tax-dodging companies and their advisers.
The prime minister repeated her plans to shake up corporate governance in UK boardrooms by putting worker and consumer representatives on boards, introducing annual binding pay votes and making companies publish pay ratios.
Among those “put on warning” by the prime minister was “a household name that refuses to work with the authorities even to fight terrorism”.
Social media sites have been accused by the authorities of failing to combat the use of their sites to promote terrorism. The Commons home affairs committee recently criticised social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for “consciously failing” to prevent the use of their sites to promote radicalisation.
Mrs May also criticised an unknown “director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust”, a rich boss who did not look after his staff and an international company that treated tax laws as an “optional extra”.
MPs have issued reports in recent months criticising the behaviour of both Sir Philip Green, the retail tycoon, and Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct.
Sir Philip held BHS from 2000 until 2015 when it was sold for £1 to Retail Acquisitions, a consortium of investors. The collapse of the business this year became acutely political thanks to concerns about the BHS pension deficit of £571m.
Sir Philip took the dividends when the pension fund was still in surplus. But a joint report by two Commons committees, for business and for work and pensions, claimed he had “systematically extracted hundreds of millions of pounds” from BHS. He had enriched himself and his family while “leaving the company and its pension fund weakened to the point of the inevitable collapse of both”.
Mr Ashley was accused by MPs of presiding over almost “Victorian” working conditions at a Sports Direct warehouse in the Midlands.
Mrs May’s comments came just hours after George Freeman, head of her policy board in Downing Street, warned of “anti-capitalist riots” if the government did not urgently reform the economic system — including with a more muscular state. “We have got to have capitalism working more in partnership with the state,” he told a fringe event. “Responsible capitalism is completely essential if we are going to tackle the social justice agenda.”
Change is Coming
Theresa May ended the Conservative conference as she started it: in command of her party and looking to extend her hegemony. “A change is going to come,” she said, as she mapped out the contours of May’s Britain.
The prime minister’s pitch to the country is that on June 23 Britain did not just vote for Brexit; it voted for fundamental change.
The first message was that she is now fully signed up for Brexit and for seizing “the opportunities” afforded by a break with the EU, with a strong emphasis on cutting immigration. “We are all Brexiteers now,” said one minister. Mrs May’s talk of “taking control” and restoring Britain’s “independence” comes straight from a Leave campaign leaflet and has helped to dispel any doubts among Tory activists that she is serious.
This week, even liberal pro-Europeans such as Amber Rudd, the new home secretary, have been talking tough on immigration and rebuking companies for employing foreign staff.
Mrs May’s tone and policy announcements — including a review of workers’ rights, new housing schemes and a promise to take on big business — are intended to extend her political grip to areas that used to be out of reach to the Tories.
May Goes After QE
Theresa May has denounced a rootless “international elite” and vowed to make capitalism operate more fairly for workers, as she promised profound change to reunite Britain after June’s vote to leave the EU.
In a speech to the Conservative party conference, Mrs May said the Brexit vote was a cry for a new start, setting out an agenda of state intervention, more workers’ rights, an assault on failing markets and a crackdown on corporate greed.
The prime minister’s speech drew comparisons with the supposedly anti-business rhetoric of former Labour leader Ed Miliband, but one Tory official said: “Perhaps only a Tory government can save capitalism from itself.”
Mrs May told activists that the Conservatives would respond to the Brexit vote by putting “the power of government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”, adding: “It’s time to remember the good that government can do.”
The prime minister also repeated her plans to shake up corporate governance in UK boardrooms by putting worker and consumer representatives on boards, introducing annual binding pay votes and making companies publish pay ratios.
Mrs May’s comments came just hours after George Freeman, head of her policy board in Downing Street, warned of “anti-capitalist riots” if the government did not urgently reform the economic system — including deploying a more muscular state.
It was wrong that half of people in rural areas could not get a decent broadband connection, that two-thirds of energy customers were “stuck” on the most expensive tariffs or that the housing market was failing working people, she said.
She suggested the Bank of England’s quantitative easing programme should draw to a close, saying that it had caused some “bad side effects”, pumping up asset prices but leaving people without assets, or living on savings, worse off.
Mrs May ended the conference at the head of a party largely united in support for Brexit and eyeing an “opportunity” to remake British politics to take the lessons of the upheaval on June 23.
Quite a Set of Tirades
Wow. That quite a set of tirades, launched in all directions.
May is giving something big to everyone in a massive attempt to consolidate power. She appeased labour, UKIP, and the Tories in a “something for everyone speech”.
Brexit is a good idea. May embraced it far more than most expected. And I salute anyone in power who launches an attack on QE.
But this notion that government needs to save capitalism from itself is complete madness. If corporations abuse tax law it is because politicians wrote tax laws that could be abused.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock