The New Few, Or A Very British Oligarchy, by Ferdinand Mount – who ran the Number 10 Policy Unit under Margaret Thatcher – was published by Simon and Schuster in May.
Mount asserts that the gains that Britain made in the decades after 1945 are being sacrificed.
Social mobility is in retreat, ‘power and wealth have, slowly but unmistakably, begun to migrate into the hands of a relatively small elite’.
He argues that the British people are not ‘apathetic’ – for hundreds of thousands, even millions, have marched for and against major issues, from the Iraq War and fox-hunting to student fees and spending cuts; but most believe political participation will be futile, seeing:
- party conferences stage-managed by the leadership and Commons votes rigged by the whips;
- policies devised on the Downing Street sofa and
- top-down solutions imposed by Whitehall bureaucrats.
Outside London, few people can name a single local representative – largely because Whitehall has become so arrogant and overbearing that not even local planning decisions are safe from interference.
Most NHS chiefs earn more than the Prime Minister, board members of the regulator Monitor, which oversees NHS Foundation Trusts, take home £237,500 a year and many university vice-chancellors earn more than £300,000 a year – at a time when their students will face tuition bills of £9,000 a year.
Reviewing Mount’s book, historian Dominic Sandbrook notes that the crash of 2007-8 made no difference at all. Thanks to the bankers’ folly, British taxpayers have had to pay out billions, yet still, while ordinary families have been struggling to make ends meet, in 2010 City bonuses came to a staggering £14billion, with Barclays boss Bob Diamond pocketing £6.5million.
Britain has become an increasingly polarised country, divided between a self-interested elite, a welfare-dependent underclass, and a great mass of people in between, bewildered, disenfranchised and increasingly angry.
Yet as Mount writes: ‘We can remember times in the not so distant past when this belonging together was taken for granted. So it could be again.’