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The Creation of the Great British Plutocracy

Money rules in modern Britain, writes Rachel Morris

Prime Minister Liz Truss in New York. Photo: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street

The Creation of the Great British Plutocracy

Money rules in modern Britain, writes Rachel Morris

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One of the most disconcerting aspects of existence today, running as the subtext below a once-in-a-century pandemic, a re-emerging nuclear weapons threat, and an existential economic crisis, is that truth is subjective. Words don’t seem to mean what they used to.

At such a time, language should matter more than ever to those who don’t wish to play this dangerous game. That includes how we talk about our Government, old and ‘new’. Mea culpa: I’ve flung about terms like ‘kleptofascist’, without knowing if they’re even real words, let alone accurate descriptors.

In the interests of personal responsibility and a commitment to the truth as it used to be known, I’ve explored terms of use and held them up against our country’s leadership team to see how well, or ill-fitting, they are. It’s necessary to examine the source of power defined by each label, then how and by whom power is wielded, for what purpose. Bear in mind that not all of these terms are mutually exclusive.

Let’s take the four primary forms of governance: anarchy, autocracy, democracy and oligarchy.

We can rule out the first, as the UK isn’t a non-hierarchical country without laws. Autocracy is when unlimited political and social power rests with one individual or polity, who or which is above the law and any means of being held to account besides violent outbreaks.

Some may say this echoes the current UK situation given what’s happened to accountability and transparency in recent times, but we’re really talking about a Sultan of Brunei-type situation there. (The commonly-used word ‘fascism’ also doesn’t apply, as it’s a belief system, whereas fascism-like actions are increasingly taken here simply to enable other things).

So, what and where are we nowadays: a democracy, an oligarchy, or somewhere in between?

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‘Democracy’ means ‘rule of/by the people’, and is of course the representative system we have, in the strict sense. But the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in 2019 via only 43.6% of the popular vote. 32 million people voted, on a turnout of 67.3% of the registered population, 13.9 million for the Conservatives (29.2% of the registered population).

That party has just, for the second time in four years, chosen its leader – and thus the Prime Minister – via an opaque system allowing unknown foreign elements a vote, or perhaps multiple votes.

For these and a myriad of other reasons, while we nominally have a democratic system, it cannot be said to be representative by any means. This tips us along the scale towards oligarchy. How far along?

A subspecies of representative democracy called ‘electocracy’ gives a government almost total power; citizens vote for it but cannot participate directly in its decisions; a sub-sub-species, totalitarian democracy, is a more extreme version.

Then there’s electoral autocracy, which looks like democracy at a glance, but institutions and norms are a cosplay façade, authoritarian methods prevail, and electoral processes are short on fairness and freedom. This brings Russia to mind, where the President and Prime Minister have simply changed places every few years, though the electoral aspect feels curiously familiar.

The UK doesn’t fit squarely into any of those sub-categories, but has inched towards some characteristics since 2019.

‘Oligarchy’ has become associated mainly with Russia and its cabal of wildly wealthy men and their families, enriched by theft from the country’s people and resources thanks to their always-precarious membership in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. But the word can apply anywhere.


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The Exchange Rate

Meaning ‘rule of/by the few’, oligarchy lends power to a small number of people who may or may not be linked by birth status, corporate ties, military or religious control and/or wealth. This category can be sub-divided, and that’s where things become more applicable to the UK. But first, let’s eliminate what we’re self-evidently not.

We have, but are not, an aristocracy. While social class still has huge influence over people’s life experiences from cradle to grave, it appears that money is now more of a determinant in the allocation of power, American-style, than simply social inheritance.

Which is where we stumble upon plutocracy: a system in which the leadership is dependent on, in debt to, and/or under the influence of the wealthy and their goals and interests, whether individuals or organisations. Whatever the type of government under discussion, plutocracy can change its nature and how it’s described. It’s simply a question of degree.

Of course, all major ‘democracies’ have always had a smear of plutocracy in their make-up. Before Liz Truss took over from Boris Johnson as leader, there were long-standing concerns about the degree of influence over that Conservative Party by the wealthy, including their involvement in bringing about Brexit.

Some such wealthy people are Putin-connected Russians, some of whom have been ennobled or are rumoured to be soon. Others have been provided with means of privileged access to Government decision-making. The Conservative Party has accepted some £5 million in donations from Russian sources since 2012.

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By way of non-Russian examples, there have been many un-minuted meetings between senior ministers and malign global influencer Rupert Murdoch or his representatives. My Freedom of Information request to the Cabinet Office for details about this earlier this year went unanswered.

Six Conservative donors have been given high-level cultural positions of influence, such as trusteeship of the National Gallery. Earlier this year, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) allowed the auction of a private tour as a prize at a Conservative function, before hosting the Conservative Summer Ball. The museum’s chair is a party donor.

One V&A trustee, Ben Elliot, was until very recently the Conservative Party chairman. Elliot used his concierge firm Quintessentially to provide services to Russian oligarchs, and is alleged to have earned an income by setting up meetings between his uncle and wealthy, fee-paying businessmen. His uncle King Charles III, that is – Elliot is the nephew of Camilla, the Queen Consort.

All of that self-evidently breaches the code of conduct for public body trustees. However, as the certainty with which a plutocratic democracy can be described as such increases, compliance with rules and norms relating to public accountability, ethics, conflicts of interest, corruption, and transparency correspondingly lessens. How else are they to get away with it?

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s nakedly rich-favouring mini-budget also brazenly ripped the mask off any pretence that we’re a representative democracy, lurching us into the realms of corporatocracy and kleptocracy.

If you’re still in any doubt, I ask you to consider three things. The relationship between Kwarteng and his former boss Crispin Odey, and Odey’s financial relationship with the health or otherwise of our currency. And watch the City of London documentary The Spider’s Web on Netflix or YouTube, if you haven’t already. Welcome to the Hunger Games. This is feral capitalism, facilitated by those in charge.

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