Mike Ashley made a typically unconventional appearance in parliament on Monday afternoon, at a Communities Select Committee hearing to discuss how to save the British high street.
Monday’s meeting was the result of months of back and forth with MPs who - according to Ashley’s own spokesperson - “originally wanted somebody from House of Fraser to speak for about 15 minutes as part of a panel of four”.
“Mike thought that wouldn’t achieve anything, so instead he demanded to go along in person for a full hour,” they said. What a treat.
Once in front of the committee, it didn’t take long for the billionaire Sports Direct boss to get the bit between his teeth.
In just one hour, he managed to discuss Father Christmas, whether or not he is god, the perils of accounting and - oh yes- the topic he was actually brought there to talk about, the high street...
Let’s start with the Father Christmas denial
In the first of numerous bold yet obvious statements, Ashley pointed out that he isn’t Santa, adding: “I’m actually a very fair guy.”
Weirdly, he’s denied being Father Christmas before (at a select committee meeting in 2016), but what’s with the additional remark? Is he implying Father Christmas isn’t a reasonable man? Maybe, yes.
Now seems like a good time to remind ourselves that Ashley’s monologues always lend themselves well to snarky tweets:
His speech about accountants
Ashley took aim at the entire profession during one particularly animated display.
Making his thoughts on number crunchers known, he declared: “Accountants can make any answer you want them to.
“It’s their job by the way, to move about numbers at will.”
Given that Ashley is boss of Sports Director and House of Fraser, as well as the owner of Newcastle Football Club, it didn’t take long for someone to point out this may not the brightest statement:
The Dr. Evil denial
Clearly irked, Ashley answered the question of whether he worries about what’s going on with House of Fraser - which he saved from administration with a last-minute purchase this summer - by saying: “I’m not sitting in my office stroking a white cat...”
Again, good to know, we guess?
The swimming pool/electric shock metaphor
In an attempt to make the committee realise what high street retailers are up against, Ashley ended up using this choice of words:
Now there’s one slight problem with this:
Well spotted, Andy.
‘I’m not comparing myself to God’
Shooting down claims he had previously promised to keep all 59 House Of Fraser stores open, Ashley said, “what person could keep 59 stores open, besides God?”, before quickly asserting that he’s not saying he’s god.
But he did speak sense too
In between the grandiose gestures and bizarre statements, Ashley did make a series of suggestions on how to save the high street, and the problems it faces.
“It’s not House of Fraser’s fault, it’s not Marks & Spencer’s fault, it’s not Debenhams’s fault,” he said. “The high street is dying.”
Ashley then called for a new tax on online retailers to help level the playing field.
He argued that any retailer that makes more than 20 per cent of its sales online should be subject to an additional tax, claiming this would encourage businesses like Sports Direct to open more stores rather than increasingly shifting to digital sales channels.
Ashley also called for more park and ride schemes, and click and collect promotions in order to entice the British public back to stores.
And Clive Betts closed it all with a quip of his own
Making sure Ashley didn’t have all the fun, the chairman of the committee remarked: “You’ve told us that you’re not a pantomime villain, you’re not Father Christmas.
“I think you’ve still left us to decide whether you’re the wicked uncle or the fairy godmother and time will no doubt tell.”