Wealthy people contribute a tremendous amount to Britain, filling the Treasury’s coffers and bestowing no end of positive good on society. The unsung heroes of the economic recovery, the fact that their actions are ever criticised and their worthiness questioned is an intolerable affront towards those fine people whose labours benefit us all.
And who is better placed to lecture us on this topic than Ayesha Vardag, the ‘Diva of Divorce’ and Britain’s top divorce lawyer, herself the midwife to so many acts of social good?
The Guardian chronicles the Divorce Diva’s long list of grievances against the poor and the dispossessed:
Miss Vardag said: “There’s a strange, underdog culture in Britain whereby the rich and successful are bashed repeatedly. It’s the antithesis of America, where hard work and success are celebrated.
“We revile the successful and forget that they pay taxes and generate employment, but at the same time we complain about a culture of failure and layabouts living off the state.
“You don’t get the prosperity and economic success that funds a world-class welfare state by sending all the rich people abroad.”
A few observations are in order here. Where to begin?
A world-class welfare state? Seriously? Has Ayesha Vardag seen or experienced the British welfare state? Of course she hasn’t. Nobody who has could call it ‘world class’ and keep a straight face. But we can discern her point – if it were not for people like her and the clients that she represents, us poor serfs would not have our self-perpetuating, callously undifferentiating, woefully inefficient and ruinously expensive safety net.
But the crux of Vardag’s argument rests on the assumption firstly that the wealthy are under some new and unprecedented attack (supposedly by the covetous forces of the greedy working classes), and secondly that these beleaguered people are all engaged in work that greatly contributes to the nation and for which we should be grateful. Neither of these assumptions is true.
The truth is that many of the super-rich, while perhaps not being worthy of envy and hatred, are also not worthy of praise, respect and a free ride in the press. It is quite possible to become very rich by doing and contributing nothing at all, while it is equally possible to contribute an enormous amount – to the community, to people in need, to any area or aspect of life where the market fails to assign the correct (or any) monetary value – and be incredibly poorly remunerated. Vardag offers no recognition of this basic fact.
You don’t have to be a foaming-at-the-mouth socialist to realise and acknowledge that there is rich variety within the ranks of the “rich and successful”, not all of them the modern-day job creating heroes that Ayesha Vardag would have us believe.
This blog is the very last place that would ever advocate taking any portion of person’s wealth out of envy, or as a punishment for hard work and success – Labour and the Liberal Democrats can squabble between themselves for that honour. But unlike Ayesha Vardag, who makes her own money profiting from a definite societal ill, neither does this blog believe that the wealthy should be immune from questioning that may sometimes be sceptical and vaguely hostile. That’s the nature of democratic free speech.
The nascent Organisation of Aggrieved Moguls , now firmly embedded in the United States of America, seems to have established a franchise in the United Kingdom. If it follows the trajectory of its US parent, we can soon expect to read newspaper columns penned by the likes of Alan Sugar, Philip Green, James Dyson and the Duke of Westminster in which they bleat about being persecuted like Jewish people on Kristallnacht:
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent … This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?
This ludicrious utterance by Tom Perkins in the letters page of the Wall Street Journal was just one of several recent pronouncements by paranoid rich guys in which they see in fairly mainstream Democratic party policies and public opinion the genesis of some terrible coming pogrom.
But Perkins, Vardag and the lot of them do the general public – in both Britain and America – a huge disservice. We may sigh ruefully when a senior neurosurgeon rolls past in her expensive car. We may daydream when walking past a solid, beautifully built house in Hampstead or on the Upper West Side. And we almost certainly gulp when we learn exactly how much Wayne Rooney will earn every week under the terms of his new contract with Manchester United. But we can do all of this within the context of understanding that rare and highly demanded skills fetch a high price in the labour market.
And while Wayne Rooney has to demonstrate his continued value by performing for his team in front of fans and television cameras every weekend, there is a great deal more opacity when it comes to the wealth of some of those working in banking or in the C-suites of many large corporations. Quite how they earn their multimillion pound or dollar bonuses is far less clear to people, particularly when they continue to be awarded regardless of whether the bank or corporation has had a bumper year or incurred a massive loss.
Policies and actions such as Gordon Brown’s punishing 50% top rate of income tax or the Liberal Democrats’ musings about a mansion tax may well be bad, counterproductive policies, but they hardly represent the dawn of a new age of wealth-bashing or concentration camps for the rich.
If Ayesha Vardag is truly curious as to why the elites (she incorrectly identifies them as only the wealthy) are mistrusted and vilified, she needs only look at the divorce proceedings case to which she is counsel and which compelled her to enter the debate in the first place. The Telegraph summarises the background quite nicely:
[The husband] is represented by Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, a Tory peer and solicitor whose previous divorce clients have included Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sir Paul McCartney.
Pauline Chai, 68, his wife, has spent £920,000 on legal costs after starting divorce proceedings in London in February last year, and a further £92,000 in Malaysia.
She is represented by Miss Vardag, a lawyer who made her name acting for Katrin Radmacher, a German heiress, in a landmark Supreme Court case on pre-nuptial agreements.
A serving House of Lords peer taking time out from legislating to go head-to-head with Vardag,another lawyer who made her career fighting a case for a German heiress. The sums of money involved are only secondary – what is most striking is the complete detachment from the normal issues and travails of life experienced by most people.
Rather than sneering at the little people for being envious of their betters in the City of London or Wall Street, the Ayesha Vardags and Tom Perkins of the world – and particularly those working in banking, since it is this industry above all that generates the vast majority of public ire – would be better off explaining and educating why their high salaries and bonuses are at their current levels, so that there is finally some public understanding of the inputs which lead to such astronomical outputs. Many people may be keen to hear Vardag’s own personal justification.
Then we can have a real debate, not based on green-eyed envy from below or sneering class warfare from above, but on the facts.