Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some things do not change

Before I blog about Thursday's victory for the Sod Off Party I want to turn to an interesting continuity in English history and that is the relationship between the government (the King and the Royal Household in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) and the wealth creators (the City of London then and now).

Here are two related news items.

John Cridland, Director General of the CBI, has warned a so-called Conservative Chancellor, to wit Georgie-Porgy Osborne, not to follow the example of his Labour predecessor and raid pension funds again. Or, in other words, stop punishing those who earn money by creating wealth for the country and who use that money to provide pensions for themselves; stop regarding all money that is made in this country as something that rightfully belongs to the government.

At the same time, the ever more ridiculous Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons, grilled and prepared to chastise executives from various large international companies for using perfectly legitimate ways of avoiding (not evading) taxes, mostly by positioning their headquarters in countries with more favourable tax jurisdiction.

The idea of MPs lecturing the rest of us on fiscal rectitude is too funny for words. How many of them are still there only because they have not been caught out in some light-fingering of what they term expenses but is really part of their salary? How many of them will be caught out in the future, much to our amusement? How many of the self-righteous who lambast those executives ensure through ISAs, pension funds and every possible loophole available that they pay only as much tax as they can get away with? I do not think that is wrong. In fact, tax avoidance is a civic duty, in my opinion, but hypocrisy on that scale begins to make one feel very ill, indeed.

As we know, the answer is very simple: make this country into one of those favourable tax jurisdictions and the companies will place their headquarters here. In the meantime, they  run businesses, sell goods, employ people, pay other taxes, make and spread wealth. How many MPs can say the same for themselves? Certainly, not our lamentable Chancellor, whose family undoubtedly has excellent tax accountants and who, himself, has worked outside the Conservative party very briefly as Wikipedia says accurately:
After graduating in 1992, Osborne did a few part-time jobs including as a data entry clerk, typing the details of recently deceased into a NHS computer database. He also briefly worked for a week at Selfridges, mainly re-folding towels.
Nothing wrong with folding towels or typing details into an NHS database but a few weeks in either job is not what one might call being in the big bad world and knowing about economic realities.

As I mentioned before, I am reading, inter alia, Thomas Penn's account of Henry VII's reign. The emphasis of Winter King is on the last years when Henry's carefully and bloodily built up regime seemed to be tottering once again but, necessarily, there are detailed descriptions of earlier events, particularly the marriage of Prince Arthur, the Prince of Wales, to the Infanta Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The marriage was supposed to signify that Henry had finally full control over his country and the various troublesome nobles (he didn't, as it turned out), could place his dynasty among the older ones of Europe (he was, after all, the grandson of a Welsh adventurer) and could mount a display that rivalled those of his Yorkist predecessors and Continental contemporaries.

The preparations, needless to say, took several years and, contrary to practice, Henry and his tightly knit Royal Household took full control, not letting the City of London do the planning but demanding that the City paid for it. In fact, that characterized Henry's relationship with the City even more than was the case with previous monarchs: distrust of their independence, envy of their wealth, need to control them tampered by the desire to get as much of their money as one could. Not much has changed there, as I said at the beginning of this post.

Matters came to a head in the late summer of 1501 when Edmund de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, a Plantagenet with a better claim to the throne than Henry himself (at least in his and other nobles' opinion) fled the country again. Henry had intended to place him at the centre of the various celebrations though he was to be kept under tight administrative and financial control. His presence was supposed to show that he had submitted but, at the same time, he was not allowed to have the title and lands he considered to be his own. A muddled and unhappy situation that resulted in yet another widespread conspiracy and Suffolk's flight from London to the Low Countries.

Thomas Penn writes:
Henry and his counsellors decided that something more was needed in the wake of Suffolk's flight. Sir Reynold Bray, one of the king's inner circle and a familiar and unwelcome face in London's corridors of power, strode into the Guildhall to demand a major change to the plans. The customary wine fountain, positioned outside St Paul's on the wedding day to keep the crowds in good voice, should be transformed into another pageant, the most spectacular of them all. An artificial mountain studded with jewels and covered with red roses, wine gushing forth ceaselessly from its depths, this 'Rich Mount', a play on Henry's family name of Richmond, would be an emphatic statement - and the city, Bray stated, would foot the bill. Outraged, the city leaders pointed out that they had paid for all the other pageants and a lavish present of gold plate for the Spanish infanta, and refused point-blank, unmoved even by Bray's uncompromising bluntness. The king's household grudgingly covered the cost.
 Apologies for the slightly lame prose. Not mine, obviously. But the tale it tells is instructive. Perhaps our own government will finally realize that you can push these people only so far.

1 comment:

  1. As ever, Helen, you say what I had in mind to say, but didn't get round to doing, whereas you took the trouble to do so. Many thanks.