So, who knew about Philip Green, then?
I don’t mean in the fashion world, where word must have spread fairly quickly of the Topshop mogul’s taste for what he calls “some banter” in the office and what others seem to have interpreted as something significantly more offensive. I mean in the world that gave Green the respectability and legitimacy he craved; the one that gave him a knighthood, got him invited to Downing Street, allowed him to become so much more than just another retailer.
It’s funny how quick some people have been to demand that Beyoncé (who had a clothing line in collaboration with Topshop) or Kate Moss (ditto) or Naomi Campbell should publicly account for any dealings with him, yet slower to ask what Tony Blair’s office might have heard on the grapevine before recommending him for a knighthood in 2006 for “services to the retail industry”, or what David Cameron knew in 2010 when he gave Green a job reviewing public spending and procurement.
There seems to be precious little honour, right now, for anyone involved in the celebration of Philip Green
And, while it’s absolutely fair enough to ask what the Tory peer and businesswoman Karren Brady (who chairs the parent company that owns Green’s high-street empire) knew about allegations of sexual harassment and racism – all of which Green strongly denies – it’s striking that attention focuses on Brady, rather than every other faceless male executive in the Arcadia group, some of whom were arguably closer to its day-to-day operations. Could it be that pictures of boring men in suits don’t leap out from a newspaper page like pictures of Beyoncé, Moss and Brady do? Shades of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, when every actress who’d ever had so much as a bit part in one of his films got asked about it live on camera, while the all-powerful studio bosses and executives inside Weinstein’s company (who, arguably, had more power to stop him) somehow didn’t become household names.
It’s possible, of course, that nobody in and around politics did hear anything untoward, beyond the well-known fact that he was famously sweary and overbearing. Maybe more serious allegations simply didn’t make it out of the building, as they have a habit of failing to do where the rich and powerful are involved.
And, if that’s true, then arguably all the more reason for Theresa May's consultation on limiting the use of non-disclosure agreements (now commonly used in business to hush up internal complaints) to proceed rapidly into law. There are too many stories about them being used to cover everything, from conduct not befitting public life right up to criminal behaviour, including sexual assault.
But there are other possible explanations. Maybe the rumours of bullying behaviour were out there in the noughties, but discounted on the tacitly understood grounds that if you denied a knighthood to every alpha-male captain of industry who’d ever made a secretary cry, then there might not be many left to honour. Or perhaps, a decade ago, it just wasn’t the sort of thing honours committees looked for, when they were vetting nominees, because, to be blunt, it simply wasn’t considered important. You didn’t have to be a nice person, still less a role model, to become a knight of the realm. You just had to be phenomenally successful, give to charity and remain at least technically compliant with tax law (Green’s businesses are famously ultimately controlled by his wife, who lives in the tax haven of Monaco), while not getting involved in any obvious scandal that might embarrass the Queen.
In which case, the additional question Westminster should be asking itself is what kind of person we consider worth honouring, in 2018; how, even in the space of a decade, the idea of what’s acceptable in polite society might have changed and how far behaviour can be said to overshadow achievement. Because there seems to be precious little honour, right now, for anyone involved in the celebration of Philip Green.