COVERAGE of the Sunday Times rich list often reads like a celebration of the immense wealth of the lucky few.
Compiler Robert Watts gushes about “a bumper year for the super-rich, with record wealth, more billionaires and the entry level rising to £120 million.”
Of course, despite grinding austerity, wages falling in real terms and acute funding crises gripping our schools, hospitals and most local government services, every year since the bankers’ crash has been a bonanza for the super-rich.
Watts advises us that “many of the rich are nursing big losses.” The decline of the high street means the owners of big retail firms “are seeing their fortunes smashed by this seismic change.”
He may have in mind Philip Green. David Cameron’s former adviser on public spending, who plundered BHS before selling it for £1 and leaving it in administration with a £571m black hole in its pension fund, is no longer a billionaire, having to eke out an existence on a modest £950m fortune.
Or perhaps union-baiting chemicals and fracking firm Ineos chief Jim Ratcliffe who dropped from first to third place with just £18.15 billion to play with.
Ratcliffe, who the BBC fawns “once lived in a council house near Manchester,” has complained that laws forcing cessation of fracking when activity provokes earthquakes of 0.5 or higher on the Richter scale are an “unworkable” burden on his business.
Ratcliffe and Green are not the only unsavoury characters on the list. Jeremy Corbyn’s condemnation of the “grotesque inequality that scars our society” should be coupled with an understanding that the system producing these extraordinary fortunes is unsustainable.
Fortunes may be acquired by asset-stripping businesses that are then left to collapse. They may derive from grossly irresponsible extractive industry, the super-exploitation of sweatshop workers or the gaming of property markets.
The term “entrepreneur,” so beloved of capitalism’s advocates, is inappropriate for these people. They are parasites.
And yet they are parasites who bankroll Britain’s governing party. The Sunday Times’s publication of Britain’s 50 largest political donors showing 47 donated to the Conservatives and none to Labour may not come as a surprise.
But it establishes with crystal clarity the fact that the Tories are a party paid to operate in the interests of the richest — and that Labour has become so serious a threat to the Establishment that it has closed ranks against it.
Tony Blair — whose unwelcome intervention over the European elections is savaged by veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner in today’s Morning Star — claimed the support of business tycoons as a sign of Labour respectability.
He drew on a long tradition of the Labour right that saw being a “safe pair of hands” for capitalism as a more important consideration than the party’s mission to represent the interests of the millions of working people who came together in trade unions to form it.
We should celebrate the fact that Labour has moved so far away from that model that the Sunday Times whines that the super-rich are planning to leave the country if it comes to power.
The story is a grotesque exaggeration — nothing in Labour’s current plans is likely to seriously dent the wealth of the wealthiest, though the return to public ownership of utilities, water and transport will hopefully shave a few zeros off the bank balances of the crooks bleeding us dry to access them.
But we should meet such accusations with pride rather than apology. Revelations like the Panama and Paradise papers have demonstrated how little the richest contribute to our society. Collapses like those of BHS and Carillion show just how much they take.
It is workers, not owners, who produce wealth and it’s high time we had a government prepared to give us our fair share of it.
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