Lib Dems Plan Land Tax & UK's new landowning elite

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Aug 31 11:12:56 BST 2011

Seems to me land rights activists as usual with 
LVT will be split on this first article...
Surely the way to tax land is to only tax the 
biggest landowners - say over 2000 acres - and 
tax them in land not money - to be redistributed 
to the nation's poorer families who want a new start, applying for free land.
Money could just be created by the treasury and 
private banks nationalised in the govt. really 
wanted to solve the financial crsis rather than 
just use it as a tool to bully & beat the landless poor with.
The fact is some of our old feudal style 
landowners who, like Gaddafi, have avoided 
getting into debt are the best at managing the 
countryside and can also be excellent tied 
landlords, better than councils, private 
landlords & even housing associations.

Who owns our green and pleasant land?
Britain's biggest estates are falling into the 
hands of Russian oligarchs hankering after their 
own slice of Brideshead Revisited. As another 
£100m home is put on the market, Tim Adams 
wonders if the rest of us will ever see over the 
castle walls  (recent Observer article - see below)

Lib Dems Plan Tax Raid On Landowners
Monday August 29,2011 - By Martyn Brown
THE Liberal Democrats are planning a new land tax 
that will clobber Middle Britain, it emerged yesterday.
Their controversial proposals would see millions 
of pounds stripped from people up and down the country.
It is aimed at wealthy landowners, property 
magnates and foreign millionaires, but is also 
likely to hit middle-class householders who have a few acres of land.
The plans, which come on the back of the party’s 
unpopular mansion tax, are likely to be opposed 
by their Tory partners in the Coalition.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is among party figures 
in favour of shifting the tax system to extract 
more from those benefiting from unearned income.
Despite risking a further Coalition rift during 
next month’s party conference season, it is 
believed the Lib Dems may seek a deal by 
proposing the extra revenues could be used to cut 
inheritance tax or raise the income tax threshold.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, long a supporter 
of a mansion tax on homes costing more than 
£1million, said Britain needed a “proper 
examination about how a land tax could be made to work”.
He said: “Government is going to look at this at 
some point because the traditional tax base is 
more and more difficult to apply. Income tax for 
high earners is becoming difficult to enforce. 
The traditional tax bases have been eroded and 
land tax is the one thing you can’t take off to Monaco.
“Business rates would be the first thing to look 
at. There are modest changes you could introduce.
“You could replace business rates with a tax 
based on the value of the site; then, instead of 
council tax, you could have a property tax based 
on the underlying value of the land calculated on an annual basis.”
Lib Dem supporters of the proposal suggest the 
land tax could be fixed at around 0.5 per cent of 
the capital value of the land, which would be 
determined by the independent Valuation Office 
Agency. Ordinary property owners with a freehold 
or leasehold stake in the land could also be hit.
Households which pay the lowest bands of council 
tax are likely to be exempt, but pensioners with 
valuable properties and low incomes could lose out.
Mr Cable said: “There would be an allowance based 
on income – a homestead allowance.”
Land taxes are to be discussed at the Lib Dem 
conference next month as the party devises policy 
for the second phase of the Coalition.
Facing the Future, a document by Mr Clegg’s aide, 
Norman Lamb and other senior Lib Dems, states: 
“We need to further develop our thinking, looking 
at wealth taxes, land taxes, green taxation and 
localisation of revenue raising.”
Party sources say buy-to-let landlords and 
landowners such as the Duke of Westminster could be hard-hit.
The Lib Dem proposal for a mansion “supertax” has 
been a major source of Coalition ructions.
Around 250,000 homes would be above the £1million 
threshold, though some are occupied by lower 
income families, including pensioners.
Correspondingly, VAT on home improvements could 
be reduced to five per cent to encourage owners 
to renovate not sell, while stamp duty could be scrapped for lower earners.

Who owns our green and pleasant land?
Britain's biggest estates are falling into the 
hands of Russian oligarchs hankering after their 
own slice of Brideshead Revisited. As another 
£100m home is put on the market, Tim Adams 
wonders if the rest of us will ever see over the castle walls
Tim Adams - The Observer, Sunday 7 August 2011
On the ground it is hard to get a measure of the 
Crichel Estate in Dorset. It takes in almost 
10,000 acres, in the glorious countryside to the 
north of Poole harbour, near Wimborne Minster. As 
someone currently contemplating whether the 
benefits of an extra 7ft of London garden and a 
10x8ft bedroom might really be worth another 
£100,000 of mortgage, I'm finding property on 
this scale quite tricky to assess.
I try walking its perimeter, but I don't get far. 
In the end I find I can get a better indication 
of Crichel's extent from an aerial view on 
YouTube: in a short film advertising the hunting 
possibilities of its thousands of acres, a 
helicopter- mounted camera swoops for several 
minutes around the gentle hills and valleys of 
the property, before dwelling on the main house 
itself. Crichel is a great Palladian pile that 
provided the backdrop for the 1996 film 
adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, starring 
Gwyneth Paltrow. It was mostly built by John the 
Bastard, one of the noted Bastard brothers of 
Blandford Forum, in 1742. Its land includes three 
villages, a cricket club, a church and a school. 
All of this could, apparently, now be yours for 
around £100 million, making it the most expensive 
British property outside London ever sold.
But as with all such sales, this one – if it 
happens – will be magnificently discreet. Nobody 
in the villages on the estate seems to know for 
certain if the great house or land on which they 
live is even being offered for sale at all, 
though rumours have been widely reported. Some 
suggest – hopefully – that the property has 
attracted the interest of Prince Charles (who 
owns neighbouring land) and who "would perhaps 
like to purchase it for his son and his new 
bride"; others believe it will go to this or that 
oligarch to fulfil their increasing desire for 
English dachas to go with their London mansions; 
and rock stars have owned some of the land around 
here in the recent past – Greg Lake of Emerson 
Lake and Palmer had the next-door property. But 
it is the members of the global financial elite 
who can most likely afford estates like this now.
Over the past decade or so, prime land and 
property in Britain has increasingly shifted from 
ownership by those with inherited wealth to the 
beneficiaries of the long boom in the world's 
money markets that ended in 2008. In 1980 there 
was a 70% likelihood that the buyer of a property 
such as Crichel House – or Cliveden, former seat 
of the Astors in Buckinghamshire and now on the 
market for a cool £35 million – would owe their 
fortune to inheritance. By 2007 that likelihood 
had dropped to about 11%. One consequence of 
globalisation has been that prime chunks of 
British property have been sold off from beneath 
our feet, as it were, to those whose wealth is 
offshored and whose property portfolio probably 
also includes a place in the Alps, the Caribbean 
and Dubai. Now 60% of London properties worth 
over £2.5m are owned by foreign investors. And 
the trend has spread to the country. The steel 
magnate Vladimir Lisin paid £6.8m for the 
3,300-acre Aberuchill Castle estate in 
Perthshire. Boris Berezovsky bought 172-acre 
Hascombe Court, near Godalming in Surrey, for 
£10m. Roman Abramovich paid £12m for Fyning Hill, 
near Midhurst in West Sussex, which came complete 
with a personal playground of go-kart track, 
clay-pigeon shoot, trout lake and rifle range.
When Leon Max, a Russian-born fashion retailer, 
bought the 600 acres of Easton Neston in 
Northamptonshire for £15m in 2008 from the 
formula one boss Lord Hesketh, he commented that 
"I like the idea of being a country gentleman
am looking forward to shuffling to my atelier in 
my monogrammed slippers". He is rivalled by 
Stefan Persson, 61, owner of H&M, who owns an 
8,500-acre shooting estate in Wiltshire and the 
1,500-acre Linkenholt estate near Andover in 
Hampshire. We sell costume drama to the world and 
increasingly the world – or at least that tiny 
percentage of it that counts its wealth in seven 
figures – buys a contemporary version of it back, 
mostly tax free and with a bit of deference and a 
state-of-the-art cinema room thrown in. Like 
Persson, Max has learned to shoot, has adopted 
corduroy Savile Row suits and entertains the local hunt.
Places such as Crichel House and Cliveden were 
built to show off the taste and trappings of the 
home-grown elite of past centuries, men who owed 
much of their wealth to the exploitation of 
labour and resources in distant corners of the 
globe. In colonising English estates now, you 
could say the globe is returning the compliment. 
It is apparently becoming hard to put a price on 
the "authentic experience" of the British 
aristocracy. At hedge fund billionaire Arki 
Busson's charity ball last month one diner bid 
£250,000 for a weekend break at Blenheim Palace. 
The traditional aristocratic season of Ascot, 
Henley and Wimbledon, its rituals of dress and 
insouciance, is embraced by the global elite with 
similar mesmerising extravagance.
One thing that this elite may not embrace as it 
buys up British land, however, is the traditional 
conscience-salving relationship that has existed 
between Britain's historic landowning families 
and their tenant farmers and tied cottagers. The 
villages of Witchampton and Moor Crichel may be 
sold with Crichel House. The people who live 
there now exhibit an understandable anxiety not 
only at the prospect of a new landlord, but also 
at the consequences of saying anything out of turn.
That anxiety seems a historical relic – like 
something out of Thomas Hardy or Jane Austen or 
even Piers Plowman – but it is real enough. One 
man I ask, a resident of neighbouring Cranborne, 
speaks to me under condition of anonymity. He 
describes how "this part of the world is still 
made up of country estates and has not changed 
much since Norman times and feudalism. Many of 
the landowners can be traced back to Norman 
ancestors, when Anglo-Saxon England was carved up 
by the invaders from Normandy. Some of the 
working families in Witchampton, likewise, are 
mentioned in documents dating from the time of 
Henry VIII. To live here is to experience what 
life was like 200 years ago." It is that 
experience, with added swimming pools and 
helicopter pads, that makes these places so 
attractive to buyers who have done their homework 
watching Gosford Park and Brideshead Revisited. 
The local man went on to express the hope that 
"the next owner of Crichel will at least retain 
the current workforce (who live in "tied" 
accommodation – no job, no home) and maintain the area's unique charm
Russians bearing guns, attracted to Crichel's 
renowned pheasant shooting, may not be 
particularly welcome, especially as they will 
tend to spend only a small part of their time at 
the house. Celebs would probably be worse. "The 
last estate up for sale in Dorset was in the 
Purbecks," my informant tells me. "This was 
bought by a financier after being viewed by 
Kylie. Cecil Beaton's home, just over the border 
in Wiltshire, was bought by Madonna. What benefit 
was there to the local economy in having Madonna 
here? Hardly any. She brought her own entourage 
with her, who sourced most of the workmen and 
domestic staff from elsewhere. To stop cameramen 
photographing her house from the air, she bought 
up the local airfield. Her staff would try and 
hire restaurants for the entire evening, to 
exclude locals and regulars, just for herself and 
her cronies. Luckily they put their loyal 
customers before financial greed – Dorset is not 
a 'Material World'
" – or at least not entirely.
One of the REASONS the British can no longer 
always compete to buy their own land, and why 
that land and property is such a safe bet for 
foreign investors, is coincidentally rooted in 
the history of Crichel House. In the "Battle of 
Crichel Down" of 1954, the Napier-Sturt-Marten 
family, who had owned the estate for 500 years, 
took on Churchill's postwar government to have 
returned to their ownership a piece of land that 
had been compulsorily purchased by the RAF for 
bombing practice during the war. The stand-off 
was seen as the last redoubt of the aristocracy 
against parliament, and the aristocracy won. The 
"integrity" of the Crichel estate was restored 
and the government minister who had fought that 
losing battle, Sir Thomas Dugdale, famously 
resigned. Thereafter any question of land reform, 
of the breaking up of ancient estates for the common good was shelved.
The vast majority of land in Britain has a 
similar kind of "integrity", rooted in the 
covenants of the Domesday Book. One of the 
effects of that 1,000-year status quo is to make 
British houses, on average, the most expensive 
and the smallest in Europe. Another is to ensure 
that, because of the scarcity of land available, 
estates will always be a stellar investment to 
those who can afford to maintain them. Kevin 
Cahill's book Who Owns Britain sets out the 
figures pretty starkly: the UK is 60m acres in 
extent, and two-thirds of it is owned by 0.36% of 
the population, or 158,000 families. A staggering 
24m families live on the 3m acres of the nation's 
"urban plot" – and not surprisingly buy into the 
idea that Britain is a severely overcrowded 
country in which land is extremely scarce.
It is not quite so scarce if you happen to be the 
descendant of the "cousinhood" of aristocracy who 
carved up the nation in feudal wars or at the 
gambling table – or through grace and favour, and 
profits from slavery – and whose offspring have 
until recently doggedly preserved their thousands 
of acres from almost every subsequent threat of 
disbursement (if only, in some cases, to sell 
them intact to Russian steel magnates or Swedish 
T-shirt sellers). Among the diehards are the 
current Duke of Buccleuch, with his 240,000 
acres; the Duke of Northumberland, who owns 
131,000 acres; and the Duke of Westminster, with 
129,000 acres taking in much of Belgravia, as 
well as the centre of Liverpool. To them, you 
imagine, the country doesn't look very crowded at all.
Carol Wilcox, secretary and treasurer of the 
Labour Land Campaign, has one antidote to this 
persistent sense of England as a playground for 
the super-rich. She recently drove from her home 
in Christchurch down to the Tolpuddle Martyrs' 
Festival in Dorset. Her route took her along an 
ancient brick wall which seemed to go on for ever 
and, as she drove along the A31, she recalls, she 
was getting more and more furious about it. 
"What's all this, built to keep the peasants 
out?" she wondered. At Tolpuddle she discovered 
that the wall was, in fact, the longest 
continuous structure in England, incorporating 
two million bricks, and that behind it lived the 
MP for South Dorset, Richard Grosvenor 
Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, who David Cameron likes 
to call Richard Drax. The estate is open to the 
public on two days a year, when the villagers make tea and cakes.
"It is just feudal, still, all this," Wilcox 
suggests. She got interested in land reform when 
she read Mervyn King's book on British tax. There 
seemed to be a glaring omission in it: land value 
tax. Rather than taxing income so heavily, or 
seeing aspiration to ownership taxed in the form 
of stamp duty, why not impose an annual tax on 
the productive value of land per acre (excluding 
occupied homes in the lower council tax bands), 
and thereby address the most glaring inequity in 
the country? This might allow tenants of all 
kinds to finally own a little patch, leading to 
the eventual disbursement, at fair price, of some 
of the millions of acres currently held in a few 
thousand hands. And it would mean the 40% of 
prime property currently being sold to often 
absent foreign investors would not look quite so attractive.
"I like to think about the effects of not taxing 
land," says Wilcox. "House prices remain 
unaffordable; there is a vast amount of wasted 
land, derelict sites and empty property in the 
hands of an elite few; and nearly all private 
income that could be used for investment goes on 
servicing property debt, allowing the banks to 
make their massive gains. The only reason anyone should own land is to use it
The idea goes back a long way, to Thomas Paine 
through Lloyd George. Andy Burnham, the Labour 
leadership candidate, had it as a plank of his 
manifesto, but Ed Miliband, according to Wilcox 
"seems not to get it". Vince Cable put forward a 
version at last year's Lib Dem conference when he 
suggested that a progressive alternative to 
attempting to raise tax on global capital, 
routinely offshored, "is to shift the tax base to 
property, and land, which cannot run away, [and] 
represents in Britain an extreme concentration of 
wealth". Traditionally whigs and Tories have 
clashed over land reform; you wonder if, as 
finances squeeze still further, that might be the fracture line again.
Britain is, of course, full of complicated 
nostalgia for the world of stately homes and 
manicured lawns, and the opposition to such a 
change is deep rooted, even among those it might 
benefit. Wilcox is fed up of hearing how the 
great landowners are custodians for whose 
stewardship we should be eternally grateful. You 
can hear it in the anxieties of the tenants and 
villagers in Dorset, who place their hope in a 
benevolent landlord, rather than in a stake in the ground.
As Britain's estates change hands, it is doubtful 
whether similar loyalties will be extended to 
foreign owners flying in for the grouse season. 
Behind their high walls, however, once they have 
purchased a piece of "authentic" heritage, the 
new owners of British acres probably won't worry 
too much about what the natives think. They will 
be too busy humming those famous old verses of Noël Coward:

"The stately homes of England
How beautiful they stand
to prove the hedge fund billionaires
still have the upper hand
though the fact that they have to be rebuilt
is a small price to pay to wear a kilt
and much more fun than buying gilts
 ( to fade)".

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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