Saturday 21 September 2019


Back in late July this year I published a blogpost: 'WHAT HAPPENS BEHIND YOUR BACK IN A NEOLIBERAL SOCIETY - LOST LANDS OF BRITAIN'. I acknowledged my debt to an article published in the London Review of Books (LRB) on May 23: 'The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain' in which Brett Christophers estimates that the state has sold off 2 million hectares of public land - a tenth of our land mass - since 1979, the value of which at today's prices stands at £400 billion. The social housing component of that total is worth £40 billion - the single most valuable slice of that total sum but still only one-tenth of that extraordinary figure. Here's the link - press here - to take you back to that important and disturbing post.

Sometimes, an image can speak volumes …. a thinking point for you, dear reader.

Around the same time as I was publishing that blogpost, I read a special report in the i newspaper that was headlined: Aristocrat UK: landed gentry's fortunes double (Saturday 20 July 2019). Cahal Milmo's story revealed that Britain's 600 aristocratic families have become as wealthy as they were at the height of the British Empire over the last thirty years and specifically that their fortunes have doubled over the last ten years. In other words, since 2010 and the Tory premierships of Cameron and May - with their imposition of austerity that has seen millions impoverished - the landed elite have been raking in the money. This was material that needed sharing more widely. The links with the economic policy of neoliberalism in Britain require teasing out. Financial deregulation and economic liberalisation have been of huge benefit to these very rich men and women.

Just a reminder of where we've come from - another thinking point for you.

A hereditary title is now worth an average of more than £16 m - nearly twice the value it stood at prior to the global financial crisis of 2008. Since 1979 and the start of the Thatcher years, the value of
a hereditary title has increased four-fold. It seems that the aristocrats' wealth doubled between 1979 and 2010, and doubled again between 2010 and 2018. What ever is going on behind your back in a neoliberal society is not good news for the likes of you and me - for the many.

Analysis of wills shows that the 10 largest aristocratic personal fortunes left in the last decade add up to £1 billion when adjusted to reflect current purchasing power. And these figures are likely to be far lower than the aristocrat's actual wealth; land, property and assets such as art collections and investment portfolios may well be held in separate trusts - some overseas - that are not open to public scrutiny.

When they spread the privilege to include me - they got more than they bargained for.

These figures represent a sharp recovery in the fortunes of the nobility, which went into a decline during the Second World War and afterwards, in the consensus period from 1945 until Thatcher's revolution began in 1979. The creation of the welfare state after 1945 - with the NHS as its beacon of hope and success - was made possible in part by the introduction of a Labour taxation policy that was premised on the re-distribution of wealth. When the Tories took back power - from 1951 through to the early 60s - they did not systematically unpick all that Labour had achieved. More council houses were built under the Tories than under the previous Labour government. The needs of ordinary people were recognised by nearly all politicians in what came to be recognised as a post-wat consensus. As a result, the average fortunes of the nobility fell from a pre-war high of £23 million to £4.9 million by 1967. They were only worth an average of around five million quid!

Privilege costs - it comes at a price - who pays? Thinking point No.3.

The asset-owning super-rich - a group that includes the aristocracy but is of course larger still - have benefited since the global financial crisis from factors such as quantitative easing which allowed them to use these assets to secure mortgages and other debts to buy further assets. As for these ten members of the aristocracy, what do they share in common?  Of the 10 largest probates between 2008 and 2018, seven of the deceased went to Eton or Harrow and the other three also attended major public schools. Six of the ten went to Oxford or Cambridge.

A cartoon from the USA - but I think it travels well …..

Remember the focus of my July blog-post on land? Much of the wealth of the aristocracy remains tied up in land, a key source of power and influence. Just under a third of the land in England and Wales - and a similar proportion in Scotland - is owned by titled nobility. Wow - around a third! Public bodies such as the National Trust may be among the largest holders of real estate in the UK, the Forestry Commission may hold 2.6 million acres on behalf of the government and is the single largest landowner - but titled nobility possess around a third of our country. And note: just under a fifth of our land mass remains undeclared at the Land Registry, possibly because it has been in the same noble hands for centuries. For the record - and in case you are as curious as I am - the royal family is recorded as holding 1.4 % of our land mass, although much of that is not deemed to count as personal property.

Scene from 'The History Boys' film version of the play by Alan Bennett, an original History Boy. If you don't know what has happened in the scene above, I urge you to read the play or watch the film. Such a brilliant work, penned by our greatest living dramatist. Read on and below for the link with this blog-post ….

Can you see why I am a socialist and a republican? The powers-that-be may have been forced into widening educational opportunities and so giving the Alan Bennett 'History Boys' like me their Oxbridge access - but I will continue to use the fruits of that education to expose the inequalities and unfairness that still make our society dis-eased and so much less than it could and should be.

Finally - a day after the Global Climate Strike - let me strike while the iron is hot and recommend my blog-post from earlier this week for opening and reading - press here to find out more about the most burning political and moral question of our times.



  1. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!
    And allowing some of the lower orders.. into Oxford and Cambridge further enable the self deception?

    1. Well said! Our capacity for self-deception can be boundless ….