MPs met yesterday to discuss stripping the knighthood from the much-derided former owner of BHS, Sir Philip Green. And they didn’t hold back.
During the lengthy three hour debate – in which MPs backed the motion to take away the knighthood unopposed – members of all parties present attacked Sir Philip in what soon became an arms race of character assassination.
Sir Philip’s knighthood was called into question after the high street mogul sold off BHS last year to a former racing driver, and then watched as it collapsed, leaving 11,000 Britons jobless and carrying a £571m pension deficit.
The vitriol poured in thick and fast. It started when Labour’s David Winnick called Sir Philip ‘a billionaire spiv who should never have received a knighthood. A billionaire spiv who has shamed British capitalism’. He then went on to say that his ‘billionaire’s lifestyle’ was a ‘form of provocation’ to BHS’ former employees and now-penniless pensioners.
Next, the cry ran out that Sir Philip was little more than a greedy ‘asset stripper’.
Soon, a Tory mp weighed in by comparing the tycoon to the autocrat Napoleon, a comment on his diminutive height, perhaps, as much as his power-hungry ways.
By the end of the debate, Philip Green had been likened to the widely-ridiculed former boss of the Mirror group of newspapers, Robert Maxwell.
It all began when Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions committee, said that the report’s main finding was that ‘literally nothing happened in BHS or Arcadia without Sir Philip knowing directly’. Field then went on to say that Sir Philip could easily have solved the problem and actually become a force for good in rebuilding a working pensions scheme.
‘We are dealing with a man who has huge sums in wealth. He could have dealt with the pensions problem and walked away smelling of roses’ Field said.
Tory MP Richard Fuller jumped in to say that ‘Freedoms that are given to people who have enormous power over fellow citizens are based on people doing not only the legal thing, but the right thing.’
Sir Philip’s knighthood now looks dangerously close to being lopped off, but the finally decision lies with the Honours Forfeiture Committee . His reputation with the public, however, has been pulverised beyond repair.
The mood in the commons yesterday reflected this. MPs took it in turns to stand up and deride the businessman: aot a single member came to his defence, and the amendment was carried unanimously.
Now it’s up to the Honours Forfeiture Committee to decide whether they take away the knighthood or not. And they’ll be under great pressure to see this one through, not least because this is the first time in history that parliament has voted to strip a Knighthood.
The question now is whether this vote will spur Sir Philip to find a last-minute solution to the pension shortfall, or whether, in fact, he’ll ditch negotiations altogether and simply retreated into his vast wealth.
Either way, for old Sir Philip the clock is ticking. A senior MP told the BBC yesterday that the knighthood would likely be annulled by Christmas. Can this little Napoleon turn things round before then?