In recent weeks, Theresa May has attempted to perform a balancing act between looking after the interests of ‘just about managing’ families and keeping big business on side. On becoming Prime Minister, she gave several speeches suggesting the need for a radical overhaul of the way businesses — and capitalism — work in order to help those left behind by globalisation. Yet May has had to soften her language to appease business leaders — backtracking, in a speech to the CBI, on a pledge to put workers on company boards.
Today Greg Clark tried to set out what May’s crackdown on corporate greed will actually entail. The business secretary insisted that workers would still be given a voice on company boards as he announced a new public consultation on measures to strengthen corporate governance. The proposals include the idea of publishing pay ratios as well as a push for privately owned companies to face similar scrutiny to those listed on stock market. The SNP’s Callum McCaig made notably positive comments about the plans — although he questioned when the proposals would be implemented. But Labour’s Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary, took a different stance. He said the real test was whether everything Philip Green did with BHS would still be legal. Under this test, Lewis said May’s plans failed.
Perhaps the most interesting question is what will really be implemented because the green paper doesn’t declare what government policy will turn out to be. In total, there are 77 question marks in the corporate governance paper. This is partly how May got it through Cabinet committee.