Cash for grouse scandal, Tory Britain is a plutocrats' paradise

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Apr 30 13:48:27 BST 2014

This cash for grouse scandal shows how Britain 
has become a plutocrats' paradise
We subsidise the landed gentry and their 
shotguns. While the poor are plunged into brutal 
insecurity, the rich are untroubled
Monbiot - 
Guardian, Monday 28 April 2014 20.30 BST
So now you might have to buy your own crutches, 
but you'll get your shotgun subsidised by the 
state. A few days after it was revealed that an 
group is considering charging patients for the 
crutches, walking sticks and neck braces it 
issues, we discovered that David Cameron has 
intervened to keep the cost of gun licences 
frozen at £50: a price that hasn't changed since 2001.

The police are furious: it costs them £196 to 
conduct the background checks required to ensure 
shotguns are issued only to the kind of dangerous 
lunatics who use them for mowing down pheasants, 
rather than to the common or garden variety. As a 
result they – sorry, we – 
£17m a year, by subsidising the pursuits of the exceedingly rich.

Land and Business Association – the armed wing of 
the Conservative party – complains that it's 
simply not fair to pass on the full cost of the 
licence to the owners of shotguns; unlike, say, 
the owners of passports or driving licences, who 
are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.

Three days later – on Friday – the government 
announced it would 
the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30 
per hectare to £56. Yes, you read that right: the 
British government subsidises grouse moors, which 
are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich.

While the poor are being forced out of their 
homes through government cuts, it is raising the 
payments – across hundreds of thousands of 
hectares – that some owners use to burn and cut 
the land (helping to cause floods downstream), 
shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators, 
and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts.

While the rest of us can go to the devil, the 
interests of the very rich are ringfenced.

Before examining the wider picture, let's stick 
with the shooting theme for a moment, and take a 
look at the remarkable shape-shifting properties 
of that emblem of Downton Abbey Britain: the 
pheasant. Through a series of magnificent legal 
manoeuvres it can become whatever the nation's wealthy want it to be.

When pheasants are reared, they are classed as 
livestock: that means the people who raise them 
are exempt from some payments of value added tax 
and certain forms of planning control, on the 
grounds that they are producing food.

But as soon as they're released they are classed 
as wild animals. Otherwise you wouldn't be 
allowed to shoot them. But if you want to 
re-capture the survivors at the end of the 
shooting season to use as breeding stock, they 
cease to be wild and become livestock again, 
because you aren't allowed to catch wild birds with nets.

If, however, pheasants cause damage to 
neighbouring gardens, or to cars, or to the 
people travelling in those cars, the person who 
released them bears no liability, because for 
this purpose they are classed as wild animals – 
even if, at the time, they are being rounded up as legal livestock.

The pheasant's properties of metamorphosis should 
be a rich field of study for biologists: even the 
Greek myths mentioned no animal that mutated so 
often. In the treatment of pheasant and grouse 
shoots we see in microcosm what is happening in 
the country as a whole. Legally, fiscally and 
politically, the very rich are protected from the 
forces afflicting everyone else.

For example, earlier this year Richard Murphy of 
Tax Research UK 
the ways in which the chancellor, George Osborne, 
had changed the tax regime for the largest 
corporations, and calculated that these 
concessions would cost the exchequer between £5bn 
and £10bn a year over the next six years.

At the higher end of his estimate, that money 
could have prevented all the benefit cuts 
overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions.

But to call on the government to make rational 
and progressive fiscal decisions, as many of us 
do, is to misunderstand what it is attempting. It 
is not seeking to save the country from fiscal 
ruin – there are many ways of doing that without 
cutting essential services. It is re-engineering 
the United Kingdom as a plutocrats' paradise, in 
which the rich are scarcely troubled by laws or 
taxes, while the poor are plunged into a brutal 
world of casual labour, insecurity and legal restraint.

There are a dozen ways in which it could have 
discharged the deficit without inflicting cuts in 
social security or other essential public 
services. It could have introduced land value 
taxation. Or it could have unlocked the deeply 
regressive banding of council tax which, 
Ian Jack showed last month, ensures that the 
Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who 
a double penthouse in One Hyde Park for £136m, 
pays less in tax for that property than do the 
owners of a £200,000 house in Blackburn.

If even a flat council tax were applied – in 
other words, if everyone paid tax at the same 
rate – Akhmetov might contribute around £2m a 
year to the exchequer, rather than £1,353. If 
council tax were progressive – in other words if 
those with the most expensive homes paid 
proportionately more – he might be charged £4m or 
£5m. Such taxes would also have the additional 
benefit of suppressing house prices.

Or the government could have levied a Robin Hood 
tax on financial transactions – which, according 
to the 
for Public Policy Research, would raise £20bn a 
year at a rate of just 0.01%. Or, instead of 
bamboozling the public and surreptitiously 
turning the UK into a new tax haven, it could 
have taken real action to prevent tax avoidance, 
saving perhaps tens of billions.

But governments almost everywhere, beholden to 
donors and newspaper proprietors, unchallenged by 
either opposition parties or their cowed and 
passive electorates, are not seeking to prevent 
the resurgence of patrimonial capitalism, 
which we have recently heard so much, but to 
hasten it. They are creating a world in which the 
rich may live by their own rules.

So back we go to the hazy days of Edwardian 
England: a society dominated by rentiers, in 
which the city centres are set aside for those 
with tremendous wealth and the countryside is 
reserved for their bloodsports. As the queues 
lengthen at the foodbanks, our money is used to 
subsidise grouse and shotguns. That is all you 
need to know about how and by whom we are governed.

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