The severe historical rhetoric used in politics should be applied to expose Sports Direct | Ian Jack

People listen when Hilary Benn speaks of ‘facism’ and Tony Blair warns of ‘appeasement’. It will take talk like that to make people notice the rapacious business practices of Mike Ashley

Britain’s political rhetoric is often at its most thrilling and memorable when it deals with abroad and uses the past. You need to be in your mid-70s to have even a fragmentary memory of the second world war, but its causes, heroes and villains continue to inform, or misinform, our understanding of present events. Hilary Benn speaks of “fascism”; Tony Blair warns of “appeasement”; Hitler strides the stage again in the form of Gaddafi and Saddam; somebody in parliament remembers to be Churchillian. The importance of long-ago battles to present national identities is easily mocked – Kosovo (1389) to the Serbians; Bannockburn (1314) to the Scots – but if England exists 500 years from now, the chances are that it will still be remembering 1940.

As for abroad, the confidence that we can intervene benignly isn’t confined to the right or the centre left or wherever Hilary Benn is now. Jeremy Corbyn always sounds more at ease addressing an intractable conflict, such as Palestine, than he does tackling problems nearer home – Scotland; the collapse of the steel industry – where, for better or worse, he might actually have some effect. He’s the other side of the same imperial coin: not the militarist but the missionary who, as Dickens wrote of Mrs Jellyby, utters “beautiful sentiments” about African orphans and the brotherhood of man while her own children run wild. Diana Athill, who turns 98 this month, puts it simply and well in her new book when she says, “The difference between being the hub of a vast empire and being a tiny island off the shores of, but not belonging to, Europe seems to be something they [present-day politicians] are unable to understand.”

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Sports Direct is a reflection of the modern British economy | Letters

Sports Direct seems to be a metaphor for the modern British economy. “The conscious strategy would seem to be to rely on cheap labour rather than costly investment,” as your editorial (11 December) says. It also illustrates the epidemic growth of workforce insecurity which plagues a nation scarred by the rise of the precariat. Britain is rapidly becoming the sweatshop of Europe, and this, along with bubbles in consumer debt and house prices, has been a major part in such anaemic recovery as we have seen over the past five years.

All credit to the Guardian for bringing this to public notice, and can we have more, please? But given all this, surely we have an open goal for Labour? No – once again they get it wrong, as Ed Miliband did when talking about “predatory capitalism” rather than highlighting the value of businesses that are run ethically and setting out plans to protect them from race-to-the-bottom firms such as Sports Direct and Amazon. John McDonnell’s reported remarks are in the same vein: quite rightly outraged about abuses, but adopting a negative, accusatory tone rather than emphasising that most businessmen are not like Mike Ashley and do not need government to keep them in check.

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Sports Direct shares fall again as analysts cut forecasts

Negative City reaction to disappointing results continues for second day

Sports Direct shares have fallen for a second day after the Guardian’s investigation into its pay and working conditions and poor financial results.

After an 11% fall on Thursday, the retail group had dropped nearly 3% to 576p at its lowest point on Friday morning, wiping millions more off the value of the company and founder Mike Ashley’s stake. The shares closed down over 1% at 586p.

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Who’s who at Sports Direct

Mike Ashley runs Sports Direct with a small group of long-serving lieutenants, including his older brother and a marathon-running tattooed executive

A company veteran of three decades, he joined Mike Ashley in 1984, two years after the business was founded, and has been listed as managing director or chief executive since 2001. He is, therefore, portrayed as being Ashley’s right-hand man. The company’s annual report reads: “In conjunction with the executive deputy chairman [Ashley], he agrees strategy, appropriate objectives and policies for each of the businesses. Dave has overall responsibility for the daily management of the group.”

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Who’s who at Sports Direct

Mike Ashley runs Sports Direct with a small group of long-serving lieutenants, including his older brother and a marathon-running tattooed executive

A company veteran of three decades, he joined Mike Ashley in 1984, two years after the business was founded, and has been listed as managing director or chief executive since 2001. He is, therefore, portrayed as being Ashley’s right-hand man. The company’s annual report reads: “In conjunction with the executive deputy chairman [Ashley], he agrees strategy, appropriate objectives and policies for each of the businesses. Dave has overall responsibility for the daily management of the group.”

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Sports Direct shares plunge as sales growth stalls

More than £400m wiped off retailer’s value as investor says corporate governance concerns could drive shares down further

More than £400m was wiped off the value of Sports Direct as City investors and MPs turned on the company following disappointing financial results and revelations over pay and working conditions unearthed by a Guardian investigation.

Shares in the UK’s biggest sportswear retailer slumped by 11% on Thursday, costing the company’s billionaire founder, Mike Ashley, some £237m.

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Revealed: how Sports Direct effectively pays below minimum wage

Guardian undercover reporters find world where staff are searched daily, harangued via tannoy to hit targets and can be sacked in a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ regime

Temporary workers at Sports Direct, the booming retail chain controlled by the billionaire Mike Ashley, are receiving effective hourly rates of pay below the minimum wage, an investigation by the Guardian can reveal.

Warehouse staff at the group, which is controlled by Britain’s 22nd richest man, are required to go through searches at the end of each shift, for which their time is unpaid, while they also suffer harsh deductions from their wage packets for clocking in for a shift just one minute late.

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Mike Ashley: the ins and outs of Sports Direct tycoon’s empire

Since leaving school in 1982, he has built up a web of businesses ranging from sportswear to property and Newcastle United. Here’s a closer look at the details

Mike Ashley owns a wide collection of assets and holds them through a web of vehicles. Using disclosures from Companies House, Land Registry, the Stock Exchange and sources with knowledge of the tycoon and Sports Direct, the Guardian has been able to build a diagram showing Ashley’s empire. It includes Sports Direct and Newcastle United but also a diverse collection of property, brands and shareholdings. Overall, Ashley is registered as a director in more than 200 companies.

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