Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Rich and richer

You really have to feel for Gerald Grosvenor. He’s on the slide. 
At least he was a year ago. We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the Sunday Times to reveal to us how he’s doing now.
But the trend’s not looking good.
OK, in 2012 his personal fortune increased by £450million – enough to buy a couple of drinks for every man, woman and child in the UK – but he still slipped from seventh to eighth in the national league table of lucre.
And let’s face it, what difference is the odd half-billion or so going to make to someone who already has £7.35bn? What matters is surely that league position.
And after umpteen years of being the richest Brit in Britain, poor old Grosvenor was overtaken last year by brothers David and Simon Reuben. Must hurt.
Or maybe not. I find it quite hard to imagine what motivates a man who was born to unfeasible wealth.
Or just what (if anything) goes through the mind of someone who came out of Harrow (supposedly one of Britain’s best schools) with two O-levels.
Then again, Grosvenor always knew he’d never have to work for his living, so why work at school? When he left he was already an earl.
The shortage of qualifications is more than made up for the string of noughts on his bank account. And it didn’t prevent him being named in 2005 Chancellor of the University of Chester.
Other titles he’s accumulated along the way include being Duke of Westminster, a Major-General, a Baronet, Knight of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Francis I (and of St Lazarus), Companion of the Order of the Bath, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, Knight of Justice of the Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem and OBE. The last, and least, of those presumably standing for “Other Buggers’ Efforts”. 
If you ever doubted that Britain was still in the grip of a medieval class system, there’s your evidence right there.
Like the Reuben brothers, Grosvenor keeps his riches growing as a property-owner and developer, with major estates in the poshest and most lucrative parts of London. He and they are the biggest beneficiaries of the capital’s property boom.
That boom is the basis of the country’s supposed economic “recovery”. A recovery – if it really is one – that most of us see no benefit from at all.
Meanwhile, we are encouraged – not least by publications like that forthcoming Sunday Times Rich List – to look up to the likes of Grosvenor (you can tell I don’t). Or to envy them (I don’t). Or to regard them as role models (I really don’t).
That pop chart of winners in life’s biggest lottery ought to be of no relevance to real people. Not worth the newsprint it’s printed on.
There may be some passing interest in seeing whether the top six places in Britain are still occupied – as they were last year – by non-Brits (two Russians, two Indians, an American and a Cypriot).
And whether Alisher Usmanov (part-owner of Arsenal) is still top and Lakshmi Mittal (part-owner of QPR) and Roman Abramovich (owner of Chelsea) still on the slump.
The fact that those three were all in last year’s top five tells you something about the relationship between football and foreign capital. And between that capital and the country’s capital.
But apart from such details, what is it that has kept the Rich List going for a quarter of a century?
What does it say about us as a society that someone goes on compiling this catalogue of unearned privilege and power every year – and that we go on buying it and reading it?
Do their mountains of wonga make these people happy? Or are they all as screwed up as most of the rest of us?
Do they fret about the spare billion the way you or I might worry about paying the milk bill?
Does having enough dosh to buy Marks & Spencer – not a nice salad or a nice dress, but the whole chain of shops – make you a better person than the woman selling Big Issue outside it? In any way at all?

Where have all the birds gone?

A decade ago, an Australian yachtsman sailed from Melbourne to Japan. “There was not one of the 28 days when we didn't catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat,” Ivan Macfadyen recalled later. 
When Macfadyen repeated the trip a year ago, his baited lines brought in nothing.
There were none of the bird cries he was used to. There were no birds because there were no fish. In Macfadyen’s words, “the ocean was dead”.
He puts its demise down partly to pollution and partly to over-fishing – especially by trawlers that throw back dead into the ocean all they catch but the tuna.
Further evidence, should any be needed, that humankind is busy fouling its own nest, possibly fatally.

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