Monday, 14 May 2012

Ferdinand Mount, The New Few or a Very British Oligarchy

Inequality in Britain has increased, is increasing and ought to be reduced. This is now part of the British political consensus, with no one against except for the nastier kinds of self-made men.

In respect to those, Mr Mount (he could call himself Sir Ferdinand but chooses not to - the title came from an uncle) voted in 2010, moving his money from Bob Diamond-geezer's Barclays to the Co-op.

That may not seem bad for a former head of Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street Policy Unit (1982-84), though in reality Mr Mount was not a Thatcherite and is perhaps best described as a life-long, old-fashioned "One Nation" Tory, formed in the schools of Eton and Christ Church.

As such, he is very much in favour of things like the London Living Wage campaign (pp 263 - 68) which aims to raise wages at the bottom. Equally, he is in favour of shareholder vetoes over executive remuneration which would damp down wages and bonuses at the top without the need for legislative capping.

Mr Mount's economic oligarchies are made up of new men - the bankers at the forefront. He has nothing to say about old money, but old money is still up there on the Sunday Times Rich List. Think only of the Duke of Westminster, who through the Grosvenor estates owns the posh bits of London.

Mr Mount is also agin the new political oligarchies which over decades have weakened local government, the political parties, the House of Commons and installed Sofa Government in their place. Both Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair very much wanted to have their own way and the outcome is what other writers (though not Mount) call a "democratic deficit".

Mount sees things moving the other way under the Coalition government though, ironically, the vote against elected mayors in most English cities suggests that those who vote aren't in favour of more democracy. Ditto for the rejection of proportional representation.

Popular rejectionism also shows in attitudes to economic oligarchies and economic inequalities.

Voters of the middling kind didn't much like "Equality of Opportunity" since there was a risk that the 11+ would move their own children down rather than up. Faith schools now shelter anxious parents from such risks.

Voters of all kinds are generally rather impressed by those who can command very large sums of money for doing little or (in the case of the Lottery) nothing. Leave aside occasional outbreaks of Fred Goodwin-rage and there seems a great deal of tolerance for paying millions to footballers who don't actually score many goals and singers who - well, I won't say can't sing, - let's say, singers who can belt out popular tunes.

So I think the malaise is deeper than Mr Mount allows. He comes across as quite an optimist and also as someone who doesn't ask that very much should change. The book is an easy read, and good in parts - on local government and, perhaps surprisingly, on the 2011 urban riots.

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