John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: March 11, 2017 Last modified: March 11, 2017

Jack of all trades
A haul of secret documents obtained by Channel 4 News has revealed the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Nick Timothy played a central role in a controversial election campaign now under police investigation. The emails between Tory campaigners could be crucial to the police probe into whether Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay properly declared campaign spending on his election return as required by law. They also appear to contradict a previous statement issued by the Party which, when asked about Timothy’s role in South Thanet, said he “provided assistance for the Conservative Party’s national team”. The Tories have consistently denied that Mr Timothy worked directly on Mackinlay’s local campaign against Nigel Farage in South Thanet in the 2015 General Election. But emails appear to show him devising strategy and campaigning messages that were used by Mackinlay’s campaign. Among the documents is a “message sheet” written by Timothy dictating crucial arguments used to persuade voters in South Thanet to vote for the Tory candidate. Key sections later appeared word for word on leaflets distributed to voters in South Thanet, one of 29 seats under police investigation into whether Conservative campaign spending may not have been properly declared. The dates of the documents in the cache suggest Timothy may also have breached civil service rules banning special advisors from any political activity while they are still receiving their taxpayer-funded salary.

We take care of our own
As a private limited company, bookseller Waterstones Holdings is only required by company law to give the remuneration bill for its directors and the remuneration of its highest paid director, who doesn’t have to be named. Waterstone’s latest annual report and accounts filed at Companies House show that in the year ending April 2016 its highest paid director received £7,249,000. The previous year the unnamed highest paid director – who could be a different person – received “just” £275,000. The likelihood is that the recipient of the £7 million is chief executive James Daunt, brought in by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut in 2011 to turn the business around. In 2016 Waterstone’s made a pre-tax profit for the first time since 2008.”

Pay me my money down
Catalogue retailer Argos is to provide back pay to 37,000 current and former store employees after they were found to have been paid below the statutory National Living Wage prior to December 2016. The back pay amounts to about £64 per employee, totalling almost £2.4 million. The underpayment was discovered during a routine Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigation following Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos last year. The cause of the underpayment was found to be related to the timings of colleague briefings, which often occurred before an employee’s shift started, and due to security searches, which could happen after an employee’s shift had finished. Argos has since introduced new processes to avoid a repeat of the issue. In addition, Argos has proposed to give most Argos store staff a 2% pay increase, and increase the basic rate of pay for some staff aged over 25-years-old from £7.20 an hour to £7.66 an hour

Into the fire
Veteran Fleet Street journalist Chris Buckland’s passion for journalism began as a young boy one day in 1953 when, as a paperboy, he stopped to read every front page’s coverage of the conquest of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing. He briefly ran away from home to queue for a seat in the public gallery of the House of Commons. Born in Burnley, Lancashire, he began his career as a Daily Mail reporter in Manchester in 1964 before becoming this paper’s Belfast correspondent from 1965 to 1966. He went on to become a political editor, columnist and foreign correspondent for several national newspapers including The Sun, The News of the World, The Daily Express, The People, Today and The Daily Mirror. He delighted in exposing political pomposity across all parties during his time as a Westminster reporter. Covering the first Gulf conflict, he famously wrote: “The first casualty of war is room service.”

It’s hard to be a saint in the city
A major rethink of corporate governance is needed to improve chief executive (CEO) pay transparency and ensure company boards recognise their broader responsibility towards the workforce when decisions on executive pay and business investment are made. That’s the message from the CIPD personnel and development institute’s and High Pay Centre’s joint response to the government’s green paper on corporate governance. The joint response points out that if FTSE 100 CEO pay continues to increase at the same rate for the next 20 years as it has for the last two decades, the average ratio between CEO and average pay would increase from about 129:1 to more than 400:1. The two organisations recommend that publicly listed companies should be required to publish the ratio between the pay of their CEO and median pay in their organisation and that the government should set voluntary human capital (workforce) reporting standards to encourage all publicly listed organisations to provide better information on how they invest in, lead and manage their workforce for the long-term. Stefan Stern, director of the High Pay Centre, said: “Voluntary measures and modest reforms have been tried, but have not been effective.”

Last to die
During Don Dixon’s time as Labour’s deputy chief whip in opposition (see Obituaries, page 17) he was not renowned for subtlety. Ahead of one crucial vote he tracked down by phone the then-MP for Sutton Coldfield, Tom Litterick, and told him to get back from holiday pronto. “But I’m in Crete,” Litterick protested. Dixon replied: “When I get hold of you, you’ll be in effing concrete.”

My city of ruins
Ian Dunt of politics.co blogged after Stoke Central: “It’s not really Paul Nuttall’s fault. Ukip were finished long ago, in early October, when Theresa May made her speech at the Conservative party conference confirming hard Brexit. Once that was done, it was clear that the Conservative party was going to adopt the Ukip programme wholesale. There was simply no reason for them to exist anymore. He could have admittedly done a better job. Nuttall has for years been portrayed as the great threat to Labour, for no real reason other than his accent. That’s how complete the take-over of identity politics is on both left and right in British politics. When it finally came time to put this theory to the test, it turned out that an accent is not enough.”

Wrecking ball
The funniest post-Stoke farce in town is the three-way ‘knighthoodgate’ spat within Ukip. Nigel Farage insists he is “not particularly” interested in a knighthood. Does he look bovvered? Laughably, Farage denied a feud with the party’s only MP Douglas Carswell was linked to claims the latter stopped him from getting a knighthood. But he accused Carswell of “working for the Conservatives” and called for the MP to be expelled from the party. In a leaked email, Carswell, who defected from the Tories in 2014, said Farage should settle for an OBE for “services to headline writers”. Step forward Ukip donor Arron Banks – who repeated his statement that he was “sick to death” of hearing about the Hillsborough disaster – who suggested he could stand against Carswell at the next election. Very helpful.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.