Martin Flanagan: Mike Ashley finally faces off against Westminster’s finest

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley appears before MPs today. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley appears before MPs today. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
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Mike Ashley’s appearance before the business, innovation and skills select committee today to answer allegations of draconian working practices at his Sports Direct retail operation could be diverting.

MPs are not plagued by self-doubt about their worth and status at such events, and they have been annoyed already by Ashley’s previous cavalier refusal to appear before them.

Ashley is also not a sensitive flower, however. He previously insisted MPs visit the Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire at the heart of the allegations first. The MPs stood on their dignity and declined.

The billionaire, also the owner of Newcastle United FC, might therefore be nettled that as the mountain would not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad has had to go to the mountain. Tycoons can sometimes get that way.

Ashley is now saying he previously refused to appear because he wanted to avoid the hoopla of a “media circus”. That has now given way to him wanting to defend Sports Direct’s “good name”.

Sometimes pyrotechnics are expected and don’t materialise. That could be the case at Westminster today. But you would not really care to bet the farm on sweetness and light breaking out.

It’s the weather, stupid

It was Marks & Spencer’s former chief executive Stuart Rose, now Lord Rose, who once memorably said that in the retail sector “weather was for wimps”.

He meant it was an easy excuse for companies to make. But given the battering the high street has had in recent years many in the sector are not so fastidious. They will take help anywhere they can get it.

The latest British Retail Consortium‑KPMG retail sales monitor says spring sunshine helped total retail sales rise 1.4 per cent in May after two months of flat sales. And a lot of it has been put down to a sunnier than usual spring for the UK that had people flocking for summer clothes and outside toys for the kids.

KPMG says retailers may also see sales – particularly food and drink revenues – supported by the Euro 2016 tournament starting at the end of this week. Amazing what a cocktail of sunshine and football can do for the high street.