Forget Harmless Eccentricity, the Aristocracy Still Wields Enormous Unaccountable Power

Monarchy and aristocracy are often considered as a single entity by the British public, whether positively or negatively.  Yet they are two very different animals.  Aristocrats have a love-hate relationship with the monarchy. They hate it because it has historically been a rival for power, privilege and wealth.  In fact many aristocrats have been republicans and that remains so today, though their vision for a republic is slightly different to mine! Conversely, the aristocracy love monarchy as it takes the high profile flak and provides ‘top cover’ for their activities in return for a little bit of pomp and dressing up a few times a year.

Though not being a fan of the City A.M. publication, often finding its articles superficial, one feature published last week nevertheless demonstrated the point about the continuing power of aristocracy. Writing about the vast areas of London owned by a few very old families it stated:

This select group has several significant players. The Grosvenor Estate, owned by the Duke of Westminster, manages Mayfair and Belgravia; the Cadogan Estate, owned by the Earl Cadogan, has Chelsea; the Portman Estate, owned by Viscount Portman includes fashionable Chiltern Street north of Oxford Steet (sic); while the Howard de Walden Estate, owned by the Howard de Walden family, is its neighbour on nearby Marylebone High Street.

I blogged about the Duke of Westminster tax rouse on his Grosvenor Estate when considering the undemocratic nature of investment ptential in Britain. As might be imagined, the aristocrats have their own lackey supporters for this state of affairs who cite ‘long term stewardship’ and ‘tasteful development’ as justification. But let’s look more closely at this 21st Century version of feudalism.

Back in the 1860s newsagent W.H. Smith set up a shop in Sloane Square. In 2004 they complained about their treatment by the Cadogan Estate when their lease was terminated and they were told to leave the premises after 136 years. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Sloane Square the Oriel brasserie was a local exclusive restaurant, mostly famed for its high prices.  Following a meal he didn’t care for at the establishment Earl Cadogan summarily decided to close it down, despite protests from the locals.  The Independent reported the situation as follows:

An Old Etonian, Charles Cadogan said that he “didn’t like the food and the prices were too high”, adding: “I can tell you that we won’t be renewing their lease when it expires …. We are going to have a new development there.”

Autocratically trashing business without any accountability is one issue. Perhaps not many blog readers will shed a tear for simply one shop in a major chain or a restaurant for the wealthy. But aside from the principle of the matter there is also the distorting effect on local democracy, as brought into stark focus at Grenfell. In this Guardian article Anna Minton looked at local authority registers of hospitality which detail some of the interaction between politicians and these feudal relics. In particular she points to Nick Paget-Brown, the erstwhile leader of Kensington and Chelsea who resigned following the tragedy at Grenfell.  In just one week Paget-Brown

..had breakfast with the Grosvenor Estate, the global property empire worth £6.5bn, and lunch at Knightsbridge’s Carlton Tower Hotel. This was paid for by the Cadogan Estate, the second largest of the aristocratic estates (after Grosvenor), which owns 93 acres in Kensington, including Sloane Square and the King’s Road.

Maybe if Paget-Brown had spent less time with the wealthy in expensive restaurants and more time considering the needs of the poorer of his constituents the disaster may have been averted.

In Britain we need to recognize that the old aristocratic families are not some sort of harmless eccentric relic from the past but exert real unaccountable influence on our daily lives wherever you

Based on Christmas Day Viewing Figures the Queen Could be Replaced by Tess Daly Next Year!

Following some overindulgence on turkey and mince pies it took a little while for my capacity to caary out basic arithmetic to return! But a simple analysis of the Christmas Day TV viewing figures reveals something interesting.  Topping the charts (for the 3rd year running) was Elizabeth Windsor with her speech registering 7.7 million views followed by Strictly Come Dancing on 7.2 million and the Christmas Bake-off at 6.3 million. You might think that was a sound argument for the continued popularity of the Monarchy, but the figures say otherwise. Admittedly the viewing figure are something of an estimate, but with a population of about 63.1 million (2011 census, but almost certainly higher in 2016) that means only around 12% watched the speech.  Allowing for those too young, too old or without access to a TV this is still a surprisingly small figure when set against a monarch with, we are told, huge personal popularity.  So like most things connected with the royals, the idea that everyone watches the Queen’s speech is nothing more than a myth.  Certainly, few of my family and friends, (admittedly a pretty radical and rebellious lot!) watched it. Ironically, I was one of the few, catching up on iPlayer to gain insights into the current thinking of the ‘opposition’!

A few months ago following the election of Donald Trump the ‘Loose Cannon’ Giles Fraser wrote an article where he extolled the virtues of monarchy.  While I have much respect for this clergyman who gave support to the Occupy movement around St Pauls in London, this was at best a weak minded piece. Boiled down to its essence the argument was that following Brexit and Trump the world was becoming too scary and it was more comforting to simply go back to believing in princesses and fairytale castles. Lets just say that at a time when we need to come to the aid of our democratic institutions this approach did not strike a chord with me! His point was that the monarch provides a rallying point in troubled times.  But the Queens Speech viewing figures suggest this is far from the case and we may as well replace our Constitutional Monarchy with Strictly Come Dancing with Queen Tess of the House of Daly as monarch!

On a more serious note, a central plank of the argument for the continuation of Monarchy is that it commands overwhelming support.  But no figure for what ‘overwhelming’ means is given (surely more than 12%!) and there is establishment reluctance to consider the possibility of a Constitutional Convention or even a referendum where replacing monarchy is an option.  Based on these viewing figures it is understandable.  Most opinion polls give a commanding majority for the monarchy, but simply answering a question where no effort is expended or costs incurred is easy. When, however, it comes to making even a minimal effort such as listening to the Queen on Christmas Day the story is very different. On that basis, how many would make the substantially greater effort to get out and walk to a polling station to support the monarchy in a referendum? As a republican I say ‘bring it on!