1970s >> >> no-884-april-1978

Diary of a Capitalist

We print below some excerpts from a journal, giving the private thoughts of a member of the ruling class (not always the same as their opinions for public consumption, which is what you can read every day throughout the British press). We hope to print further extracts from time to time.

Sunday. My new Rolls-Royce drophead is going splendidly. It’s very good value for £45,000. As the Rolls- Royce adverts used to say a few years back, if you have a Rolls everyone can see you’ve got good taste. So I’ve proved I’ve got that, all right—£45,000 worth of it.

I keep the Rolls mainly for business journeys, for example going up to town to my head office. As chairman of the company, I have to travel in a certain style. The car is kept smart by a firm I’ve found in the City, run by an ex-chauffeur (Sunday Telegraph, 15.1.78). They take your Rolls in for a day and give it a good service and clean, right down to hand-polishing the radiator and putting saddle soap on the leather upholstery, for £100; then, after that, they come and pick the car up one day a week and keep it up to standard, for only £45. They think one good going-over per week is enough to maintain a Rolls as a credit to its owner, and it’s dirt cheap at only nine fivers a week.

My butler and I parted company today—I found him reading a rag which said we should abolish the wages system! As I said, how am I going to get people to produce the goods which make my profits without a wages system? I’ve put an ad in the paper for another one, offering £7,000 a year and car allowance, which is what a decent butler gets nowadays (domestic situations, The Times, 20.1.78).

Monday. Dropped in at an interesting press conference this morning, held by the Independent Schools Information Service. Its director claimed that many manual workers—he instanced miners, a machine operator, a fairground worker, a policeman, and a postman—send their children to independent schools. “We reject the epithet ‘bastions of privilege’,” he said (The Times, 17.1.78). There are, of course, independent schools and independent schools. They range from the very expensive, with highly paid staff and lavish equipment, and a pupil-teacher ratio as low as six to one, to the ramshackle institutions which offer worse premises and lower-paid teachers than most state schools, and which only survive because of snobbery among some parents. The really posh public schools charge about £2,000 a year, so my two sons set me back some £4,000 annually. I don’t think we need worry, at those prices, that our boys at Eton are going to be swamped by proletarian brats; and if there was a risk they’d put the price up.

Tuesday. Another bit of news in the paper: it appears that the workers regularly go hunting, besides sending their children to public schools. The Master of the Cotswold Hunt denied the other day that fox-hunting is an upper-class sport. “That’s an outdated belief. We have many working people who come to the hunt on Saturday afternoons” (TV Times, 26.1.78).

The MFH’s forthright words made me sit down and work out how much it costs me to go fox-hunting. I bought my hunter—not a bad piece of horseflesh—for £2,000. Then there’s the saddle, £100, and bridle, £50. The clothes cost me about £400—a couple of hunting jackets (£100 each), breeches £50, whip £10, handmade boots £100, top hat £20. On top of that the horse costs £30 a week at livery stables, plus about £100 a year for shoeing, and then there are vets’ fees, rugs and blankets, and so on. Besides all that the stable charges for transport, though one could always buy a trailer for £500. Then the fox-hunter mustn’t forget his, or her, “evening dress wear for the important social side of the hunt” (as the TV Times puts it); and this isn’t the ordinary evening dress outfit I put on for dinner every night, but a special rig-out I keep specially for hunt functions. The Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt, for example, has distinctive evening dress with scarlet facings, and the East Kent prescribes “evening dress—scarlet, buff silk collar, white silk facings”.

I suppose most people suspect that hunting in the proper style, like sending your children to good boarding schools, is only for the rich; but this propaganda to the contrary helps to keep the poorer people happy, which is good for capitalism.

Wednesday. Had a bit of trouble today at one of the factories owned by the family holding company. The workers are asking 15 per cent more pay. They say prices have gone up 10 per cent in the last year, and an increase of 15 per cent, after tax and other deductions, means (for all except the very poor) only 10 per cent more take-home pay. So they needed 15 per cent merely to regain the same position they were in a year ago (ignoring all the losses they have suffered as prices have gone up each month, though their wages remained stationary). They had the nerve to point out that our profits went up 35 per cent on last year’s (just like the Barclay’s Bank profits, Daily Telegraph, 24.2.78), so we could easily afford 15 per cent more pay.

I went down there, and called the union representatives in to a meeting. I said I had every sympathy with their claim, and in normal times (of course, “normal times” never come, but they were too polite to mention it) I would naturally agree to restore their nominal pay so that in real terms they wouldn’t have to take a cut in the wages they agreed this time last year. But, I said, it just couldn’t be done. The national interest, I said, demanded sacrifices from us all (especially them, though I didn’t say so aloud!), and I was naturally obliged to support the Government, which had laid down only 10 per cent wage increases. I gave them all the usual stuff —law and order must be upheld, respect for our democratic institutions, light at the end of the tunnel, putting this old country of ours back on its feet, the regular load of clap-trap—and in the end they had to accept the 10 per cent. I’d worked hard for it, though. I had a meeting with one of the head-office boys in their union yesterday—plush London hotel, slap-up meal, brandies ad lib, cigars on the house—and finally he agreed we would all have to tighten our belts. At least his members would. So he came down to the factory today and backed me to the hilt. You put the Labour Government in, he kept telling the shop stewards: you aren’t going to turn traitors now, are you?—the usual trade-union leaders’ line. So we got our agreement signed and sealed, and the factory hands got back to their proper job of building up my profits, for lower real wages than they agreed last year.

Thursday. More trouble today. One of the small companies owned by the family trust has a chain of provincial hairdressing shops. At one of these shops the staff were turning nasty. An assistant had found out that employers are supposed by law to pay the wage-rates set by the wages council for the industry, and began complaining that their pay was below even the wages council’s low figure, which starts at £26.50 for a forty-hour week. He’d read somewhere about the Low Pay Unit’s report that twenty-four in a hundred hairdressing employers pay below the minimum legal figure (The Times, 3.2.78). So I went down to sort it out. The trouble-maker began spouting at me about upholding law and order, and our democratic institutions and so on, so I shut him up a bit sharpish. I told them I’d close the place down completely if there was any more trouble (they don’t belong to a union, so we can be a bit more direct in our methods). There’s nothing like a million and a half people in the dole queue to make the others see reason! So back to work they went.

I’ll have to watch that agitator, though. He had some cheek, quoting law and order at me. He’ll have to realize that law and order is intended to help people like me keep him in his place: not the other way round.

Friday. Marvellous meal this evening at the Inn on the Park’s Four Seasons restaurant. Normally a meal for two there costs about £26 (The Times, 7.2.78), but this week four chefs from Maxim’s in Paris have come over to superintend the cuisine, so dinner for my girl friend and me this evening cost £60. The girl friend said if the hairdressing assistants who were so awkward yesterday saved their entire week’s wages, they could almost afford one meal at these prices! We had a good laugh about it over the Filets de Sole Albert.

Saturday. Bought the wife a new coat—ocelot fur, with lynx border, £3,000 (Sunday Times, 4.12.77). And booked a three-week cruise in May for the two of us to the West Indies, £1,392 (Daily Telegraph, 24.2.78). It’ll make a nice break.

I turned down a four-week art treasures tour to Bali, Java, and so on, which would have been £2,496 for the two of us (Sunday Times, 4.12.77). One doesn’t want to be ostentatious in these hard times.

Alwyn Edgar