October 13, 2010

How Many Millionaires Does It Take To Run The Country?

So benefits are being cut, and public sector pensions are being cut, and jobs are being cut, and students are to be charged more… One recurring theme to be found in much of the invective unleashed by those who oppose the government as it merrily slashes its way around the place is that this financial pain is being inflicted by a bunch of millionaires. Until today I hadn’t quite realised the extent of this. Yes David Cameron and George Osbourne have the sort of histories (and faces) which scream “excessive money in the family” but I didn’t realise how deep it ran.

Depending on who you ask either 18 of the 23 full time senior cabinet members (The Times) or 23 of the 29 members entitled to attend cabinet meetings (The Daily Fail) are worth more than a million pounds. Indeed, according to the Mail article only Vince Cable, Andrew Lansley, Eric Pickles, Baroness Warsi, Patrick McLoughlin, and Danny Alexander don’t have a million pounds stashed away somewhere from property, shares, inheritance, publishing or wallpaper.

Lend us a fiver!

Apart from the curious situation where two of the three men tasked with tackling the economic state of the nation (Cable and Alexander) aren’t in this rich club, does it not strike people as a bit… exclusive?

I’ve nothing against millionaires in theory. I only know two millionaires and both earned their money through hard work and graft. Yes, I grit my teeth at the unfairness of those born with silver spoons and rich parents, but if there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that money can be lost as well as gained – just track down Rupert Everett’s apperance on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to see someone encountering the evidence of an ancestor who frittered it all away. The rich should pay more tax and take more personal responsibility and that, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with having more than a million pounds.

However, if virtually the entirety of a country’s leadership is comprised of millionaires doesn’t that suggest that the national leadership is lacking a perspective or two? Like those of people who have less than a million pounds, aka the vast majority of the people of Britain? After all, the median wage in Britain is smidge over £25,000pa, a rate which would require nearly 40 years in order to accumulate a million pounds, if the recipient didn’t spend a penny and wasn’t taxed.

From the BBC, 2006/07 figures give an idea of the shape of British earnings.

So here’s my completely unworkable and insane idea for the week.

You might have heard of Labour’s women-only candidate lists. It’s not new news, here’s an article about it from 2002, and whatever its problems it does come from a well intentioned position – the desire to bring about equal representation of women and men in parliament. The idea, amongst those who advocate it, is that this equality is a good thing as it brings a proper representation of the British people. I am sympathetic to this, even if I am not 100% certain that single gender candidate lists are the best way to achieve it. Harriet Harman has also made it one of her aims to get half the shadow cabinet roles to go to women.

But if we’re trying to move towards equality in one area, why not another, just as pressing – financial status? I’m sure the massed ranks of millionaires in the cabinet can do a most excellent job of understanding how things affect millionaires, but I don’t believe they have enough insight into my position, or that of the family struggling at the poverty line, or even the upper middle class family with the doctor on £80,000 and the head teacher on £70,000. If we take it as read that a cabinet full of men cannot act in the best interests of women (and I believe they couldn’t, and vice versa), how can a cabinet of millionaires act in the best way for the massed ranks of non-millionaires?

So the madcap idea of the week is this – force the cabinet to represent the population in general. With 29 positions there might be space for as many as two millionaires (not because this is proportionate, but because it’ll be hard to wean ourselves off our addiction to excessively rich people right away) and then 27 people from a variety of financial positions, although the majority would earn between £18,000 and £30,000. Why not? A list of people for the 29 slots from which the cabinet will be decided, and then when elected they will all have to work together to decide who gets which role and how to run the country. Of course it would be almost totally unworkable in reality (because if there’s one thing people cannot do, it’s work together), but it would bring voices to the table which are flat out ignored by all major parties.

Otherwise we’ll just go on being run by an unrepresentative group of people who won’t feel the pain we’ll feel in the next few years. And that cannot be healthy, surely?

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. walpolian87

    It’s a nice proposal and it does ensure that the population has more of a voice that they can identify with too. Could you actually force the government to do that right now though? I get the feeling it’s a nice idea on paper but hard to implement into the infrastructure we have now. Be one of those ‘compromise and then put it into greater effect later’ dealies?

    But more on the theory…it might even manage to silence the ‘they’re all the same’ statements that people disillusioned in the mechanisations of politics like to repeat or, perhaps more realistically, decrease it a little. I do believe that people of different backgrounds can empathise with others from different backgrounds but it can only reach so far and if they haven’t been through the lives of those from a removed (not necessarily even a far removed one) area of life then there’s going to be that gap there.

    Simon :)

    15 Oct 2010, 00:57

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