Theresa May will promise to ensure that workers are represented on company boards and that shareholders get a binding vote on corporate pay as she launches her national campaign to become Conservative leader and prime minister.
In an announcement that in some respects outflanks what Labour was offering on corporate governance at the general election, the home secretary will say on Monday that the rules on pay and board membership need to change because big business is too unaccountable.
Her speech will also stress her determination to tackle inequality and to put the Conservative party “at the service of working people”. Aides said her policy announcements were partly influenced by the EU referendum, and the sense that people voted as they did because “they did not feel that they were in control of their lives”, in the workplace and elsewhere.
Following last week’s elimination ballots in parliament, about 150,000 Conservative party members now have to choose between May, the favourite with overwhelming support from the party establishment, and Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister who leapt to prominence as a Vote Leave campaigner.
May will say: “I want to see changes in the way that big business is governed. The people who run big businesses are supposed to be accountable to outsiders, to non-executive directors, who are supposed to ask the difficult questions, think about the long term and defend the interests of shareholders.
“In practice, they are drawn from the same narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and – as we have seen time and time again – the scrutiny they provide is just not good enough.
“So if I’m prime minister, we’re going to change that system – and we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but workers as well.”
Having workers represented on company boards is common practice in mainland Europe, and it is an idea the TUC has advocated for years, but it is a proposal that may be too corporatist for some Tory activists. It appears to go further than Labour’s 2015 manifesto, which did talk about compulsory workers’ representation, but only on remuneration committees.
May will also promise to act to end the “anything goes” culture in executive pay.
“We’re the Conservative party, and, yes, we’re the party of enterprise, but that does not mean we should be prepared to accept that ‘anything goes’,” she will say.
“As part of the changes I want to make to corporate governance, I will make shareholder votes on corporate pay not just advisory but binding.”
The coalition government took a step towards this by giving shareholders a binding vote on pay policy every three years. May would take this much further, by giving them a binding vote every year, and by ensuring the vote covers individual pay packages as well as policy generally.
In her speech May will set out three priorities: to govern “for everyone, not just the privileged few”; to unite the party and the country; and to negotiate EU withdrawal successfully. “Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it,” she will say.
She will also stress her desire to tackle inequality. “Right now, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else to go to university,” she will say.
“If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you still earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s too often not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
Leadsom is seen as the more rightwing and socially conservative candidate in the contest but on Sunday Tim Loughton MP, her campaign manager, rejected claims that her support base among MPs was the traditional party attempting to undo some of the more socially liberal reforms of Cameron’s premiership.
“There’s nothing traditional about Andrea. This is not about trying to take back control of the Conservative party,” he said. “This is a fresh candidate in Andrea Leadsom, who has much more experience outside politics than other candidates. She is a fresh face, who made a virtue out of absolutely passionately believing in our future outside the EU and she wants to make that work.”
Leadsom published information from her tax return on Sunday and declared an income of nearly £85,000. The figures show that she was due to pay tax of £22,621 on income of £83,930 – an overall tax rate of 27%.
The tax return, calculated by Isis Accountants, shows that Leadsom had an income of £76,597, dividends and tax credits of £2,324 and interest income of £5,009.
She paid £6,544 of tax on £32,720 at the 20% basic rate, £755.30 on her dividends at the higher rate of 32.5%, and £15,554.40 on £38,886 at the 40% higher rate of tax. She also received a £232.40 discount in tax credits on her dividend income.
Leadsom earned £9,270 in capital gains but did not incur any tax on that income because it fell within HMRC’s tax-free limit for capital gains.
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