Friday, February 01, 2008

Who runs Britain? The super-rich and some other people 

Interesting that it is the daily Telegraph (and not for example the Grauniad) that is serialising extracts from the book ‘Who Runs Britain?’ by Robert Peston.

Parts are very relevant to the current uproars:

When the going was good, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and partners in private-equity firms all did very nicely from the bonuses and the capital gains and the fees generated by the frenetic manufacturing of deal after deal after deal. Many of them are now paying a price for failing to understand the risks they were taking on. Don't weep for them. They have already extracted fortunes. It is most of us who are paying for their foolhardiness, as the pricking of a financial bubble they created has a negative impact on all our prosperity.

And he goes on to spell out some of the political consequences, all too relevant in the current heated atmosphere over ‘sleaze’.

Why should any of us care? For one thing, it's not healthy for democracy. The new super-rich have the means through the financing of political parties, the funding of think-tanks and the ownership of the media to shape Government policies or to deter reform of a status quo that suits them… since 2001, the private equity doyens Sir Ronnie Cohen and Nigel Doughty have contributed £1.8m and £1m respectively to Labour, the former Goldman Sachs partner John Aisbitt has given £750,000 and the hedge-fund executive William Bollinger has handed over £510,000…. the biggest cost from the swelling of the super-rich class is an erosion of the fabric that holds together communities and the nation. The plutocrats who live here behave as though the UK is permanently on probation.

Individuals can distort the system in their favour for colossal sums, way beyond the puny efforts of Conservative MPs passing taxpayers crumbs to their families. Of Sir Phillip Green and his wife, Robert Peston notes:

(Green’s) greatest coup was to receive a divided in 2005 of £1.2bn from Arcadia, the retailing business he had bought in the autumn of 2002 with just a few million pounds of his own cash. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that his wife received the dividend. He is the grafter, probably the greatest retailer of his generation, and she's the owner. Why are the superlative assets in her name? Well, as luck would have it, she became a resident of Monaco before he set new records for extracting cash from old-established businesses. So by vesting ownership in her hands, any dividend paid would avoid payment of tax to the British Exchequer.
On this one dividend - probably the biggest ever paid to an individual in the history of British business - there was therefore a colossal tax saving, estimated at £300 million. It would have been enough to build 10 state secondary schools…You might think that depriving the public purse of such a sum might put him in baddish odour with the Government. But there has not been so much as a hint of unpleasantness. In fact, the lovable rogue of the British billionaire class was even knighted - for his services to retailing - just a few months after dancing around the tax man. Green is the matchless hero, the nonpareil of the new monied class. Understand him and how he made his pile and you understand 21st century jackpot capitalism.

Once more it is interesting that it is the Telegraph that is publicising this, which suggests that at least some of its business-orientated readers will not entirely approve. Even though the outcome of fighting off Green’s predatory bid seems to have been beneficial for M+S…
Read the telegraph extracts :
1 Pointing fingers at the plutocrats (here)
2 Hedge Funds: the new global super powers page 1, page 2,
3 Sir Philip Green (The bidder for M+S)
Robert Peston ‘Who Runs Britain? The super-rich and how they are changing our lives’. Hodder and Stoughton Feb 2008.

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The funny thing is that today's 'super-rich' have less money in real terms than the very rich of the past.

It is the political classes who grant favours to the rich in return for support who run this place. The class which has bred so many MPs on all sides of the house.
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