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Cameron's Cabinet of millionaires

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Moneyed class: Britain's new Cabinet in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London on May 13.
Moneyed class: Britain's new Cabinet in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London on May 13.

Hasan Suroor

In these austere times, Prime Minister Cameron and his Cabinet — collectively worth about £50 million — cannot afford to be seen as too smug about their wealth.

What is it about the Tories and millionaires? Not for the first time in the history of Tory governments, the new Tory Cabinet is heaving with millionaires. In a Cabinet of 23, as many as 18 (including Prime Minister David Cameron) boast of personal wealth on a scale that an overwhelming majority of their constituents can only dream of.

According to a Sunday Times analysis, they are collectively worth about £50 million with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond topping the list with a personal fortune of more than £7 million and Foreign Secretary William Hague bringing up the rear at £2.2 million.

So stiff is the competition for places that Mr. Cameron finds himself at number six with nearly three-and-half million pounds of private wealth — two places behind his best friend and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne who is worth more than £4.5 million.

Rather embarrassingly for the Liberal Democrats, there is also one of their own in this rich man's club — Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Secretary, who owns properties estimated to be worth £3 million. Indeed, Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems' leader and Deputy Prime Minister, himself is a millionaire but with a mere £1.8 million he doesn't make it to the Sunday Times' rich list.

In comparison, the new government's Labour predecessor was rather a modest affair. Although it flirted shamelessly with the rich and the powerful and leading New Labour figures, including Tony Blair, were in awe of the party's multimillionaire benefactors (Peter Mandelson, one of New Labour's architects, famously said he had no qualms about hobnobbing with the “filthy rich”) there was not much private wealth around the Cabinet table.

Indeed the only “true blue” millionaire in the Cabinet was a former Tory, Shaun Woodward who defected to Labour and was rewarded with a Cabinet post. Mr. Woodword, who is married to a member of the family that owns the famous Sainsbury supermarket chain, accounted for the bulk of Labour's ministerial wealth. He was once said to be the only Labour MP with his own butler.

The Sunday Times reckons that the Cameron Cabinet is “at least £15 million richer than its Labour predecessor when property values, business interests and shareholdings are taken into account”. Although Gordon Brown's Cabinet had 10 millionaires, collectively worth £35 million, it is important to remember that some £15 million of this were down to Mr. Woodward. So, man-to-man, as it were, Mr. Brown's Ministers were far less affluent than Mr. Cameron's boys.

Tories, of course, have form on this. The richest Tory Cabinet was that of Harold Macmillan (1957-63) who himself was heir to the Macmillan publishing empire.

His Cabinet, as ST recalls, included tycoons such as the construction magnate, Ernest Marples, and members of the landed gentry like Christopher Soames and Alec Douglas-Home.

Addressing his Tory troops once, Mr. Macmillan memorably boasted that Britain “never had it so good” — a remark that came to haunt (and indeed in a perverse way, define) his government when, a few years later, it was embroiled in a series of sensational spying-and-sex scandals including the famous Profumo affair involving the Secretary of State for Defence John Profumo and a call-girl called Christine Keeler who was also in a relationship with a London-based KGB spy.

The scandal spawned lewd jokes about how Tory Ministers never “had it so good”. In the end, of course, the whole Tory show collapsed in a heap of embarrassment and shame.

In these austere times when ordinary people are struggling to survive, Mr. Cameron and his band of millionaires cannot afford to be seen to be too smug about their wealthy/class background while forcing others to make sacrifices in the “national interest”. When the effect of the £60-billion of spending cuts, announced by the government, starts to bite (up to 300,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs as a result of the planned cuts) people might begin to wonder whether the Tory “class of 2010” with its posh background (Eton, Westminster, Oxbridge, Notting Hill Gate) really understands their pain.

Labour was excoriated and accused of instigating an unseemly “class war” when it tried to make an issue of the Tories' privileged upbringing during the election campaign claiming that they were so far removed from the “real” world that they could not be trusted with the problems of common people. Perhaps, Mr. Brown and his advisers overegged the campaign but the fact is that class matters. However hard a government so deeply incestuous in terms of its social and cultural make-up as Mr. Cameron's tries to reach out to the larger society (and to be fair, it is making all the right noises), ultimately, it is likely to be defeated by its own deep-seated class instincts.

And here it is from the horse's mouth. Writer and journalist John Alridge, who describes himself as a “fully fledged member of the new Establishment” , had this to say in a newspaper article about his fellow class-travellers: “The class of 2010 claims to offer the most radical government since Margaret Thatcher....As Cameron puts it: ‘This is new politics for a new era.' But it is overwhelmingly young, posh, white, male and privileged. The rich and powerful are rarely radical, perhaps because they have had everything on a plate and have little to prove — unlike the Iron Lady, who famously rose from a modest background ... Now that it has made it, is the new Establishment too posh to push for change?”

You bet.

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