In recent years House of Commons select committees have become more muscular, more assertive and more willing to hold ministers, senior public appointments and even private individuals to account. Ferreting out failure, revealing risky endeavours and demanding disclosure is a good thing in our more transparent age. Unfortunately, now that membership of a select committee is an alternative career path for MPs passed over for ministerial roles, we frequently witness a great deal of inaccurate and aggressive grandstanding from these MPs.
Earlier this year, in the wake of the closure of high street retailer BHS, a joint report from the Business and Work and Pensions select committees blamed Sir Philip Green for leaving it in an unsustainable financial position that led to 11,000 job losses and a pensions black-hole, while profiting handsomely himself. The report has led to calls for Sir Philip to be stripped of his knighthood and has been a serious blow to his reputation.
This week Sir Philip hit back hard. He published a review he had commissioned, conducted by two respected QCs, into the report on the BHS closure. Lord Pannick QC and Michael Todd QC called the MPs findings “ bizarre” and “unsupportable” going as far to say the select committees’ inquiry process was “so unfair that, if parliamentary privilege did not prevent a legal challenge, a court would ’set aside’ the report”.
Soon after Sir Philip gave an exclusive interview to ITV’s Robert Peston in which he repeated the findings of the review he had commissioned but also demonstrated real contrition towards those who had lost their jobs or faced losing their pensions. It wasn’t a perfect performance from Sir Philip - he is not an individual who is particularly easy to warm to - but in admitting selling BHS to a former racing driver and bankrupt was a mistake he showed a human side rarely seen in public.
The House of Commons is to hold a debate this week - as if they have nothing better to do - about whether Sir Philip’s knighthood, awarded for services to retail, should be stripped from him. This was a masterly piece of rebuttal and a giant step toward protecting Sir Philip’s reputation - and his knighthood. For that Sir Philip Green is my Communicator of the Week.
Afterword: This afternoon MPs debated a motion calling for Sir Philip Green to be stripped of his knighthood. They voted in favour of the motion although this is not binding and any final decision has to be taken by the Honours Forfeiture Committee.
The three-hour attack on Sir Philip’s reputation and business practices was pretty unedifying with MPs perhaps attempting to tap into a populist strain of anti-capitalism. This debate was always going to happen in this way which is exactly why Sir Philip’s actions earlier this week were the right thing to do. By undertaking his interview with ITV and publishing the report from two QCs ahead of today he was able to get his arguments over first - a prebuttal if you like - rather than having to play catch up.
Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.
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