Crowning for Cameron? Land reform is the 'right' thing to do
Land ownership is (literally) part of the bedrock of any nation and certainly its economy; and yet very little attention (beyond that of the domestic residential market) is given to it by politicians in this country .
Politicians and think-tanks simply don't understand it (land law is for lawyers) or take the view that if there was 'anything in it' it would have been 'done' by now. Alternatively, 'land policy', such as bringing land into public ownership, is regarded as something from a state socialist past or is the domain of Zimbabwe's Mugabe.
Of course those who do own the land surface (and below) of the UK are very much delighted by this approach and have no interest in the issue moving up the agenda.
I would propose that the issue of land ownership is a litmus issue for the right in politics as much as for the left. Indeed it may be one of those issues where both left and right can agree.
For crowning land, as suggested previously in these blogs, is, viewed from a right-wing perspective, the same process as privatisation of state-owned assets and should be embraced by the right as such.
David Bailey and I have already blogged here and here about the fact that deficit reduction plans could be supercharged and be made less painful by sales of land from the great landed estates, once returned to the crown.
The value of this land could easily be as much as ÃÂ£100billion and receipts for the sale of this land could be used for deficit reduction through a great privatisation scheme reminiscent of the Thatcher privatisations of the 1980s.
And this ÃÂ£100billion-worth of land is in the hands of about 100 (mainly) men and was not purchased for fair value by them or their families at any stage. But they have 'owned' it for centuries, or rather it has vested in them.
When we first put the case for bringing this land back to the crown there were those on the right who saw this as some kind of attack on the property rights of the private sector: it's actually the exact opposite.
All of the land we are talking about is owned by the vestigial remains of the UK and British state.
The policy relates only to total land holdings (of individuals) worth more than ÃÂ£30million, and not purchased for fair value in the last 160 years or not inherited immediately or successively from someone who did purchase for fair value at some point in the last 160 years. That effectively excludes everyone in Britain apart from the top 100 or so people at the richer end of the aristocracy.
The aristocracy is an organ of the state, not the private sector, almost by definition. It provided the legislature (eventually effectively in both houses) and the executive for centuries. This power came not through a personal, private status but was legislative power derived from the very land which they owned on behalf of the state, held of the crown.
Today, the landed hereditary aristocracy still automatically provides legislators (92 of them) for the House of Lords.
Whether through monarchical government or baronial government, the power of the state at national, regional and local level was in the hands of, and delivered by, the aristocracy. They held, and continue to hold, their land in the same way that the state holds any asset. It is not vested as a private asset and should not be seen as such. It is effectively a state-owned asset. It has not been bought for fair value at any stage for the last 160 years and cannot, therefore, be viewed by the right as 'private' property.
Consequently, returning this land, held of the crown, back to the crown once more and selling it into genuine private hands is simply a process of much-needed privatisation. It reduces massive over-concentration in the market at the same time. It may, indeed, be good for both freehold and leasehold property prices.
It also provides for a better diversity of places for investments to be placed, especially by pension funds. Pension funds are always after a diverse spread of investments and at the moment the 100 aristocrats dominating this asset investment market are preventing diverse portfolio spreads to include the full range of UK land assets.
The accumulated income and other wealth derived from the land acquired by the aristocrat and his forebears for centuries would be fair enough, pre-paid compensation; not that any should be needed.
Thus a key segment of our economy would be released from public ownership into private ownership. Isn't that a right wing policy?
The international ratings agencies (although I do not personally believe their opinions are worth a pinch of dust) would assuredly confirm UK plc's top grade status for the long term overnight, thus helping to keep credit costs low in the economy. The assets of UK plc would have been sensibly restructured to its clear long-term benefit. What's in this for the right not to like?
So, come on Cameron, do you recognise the need to release this land into the private sector from aristoland? Are you a new Radical Conservative or an old-fashioned High Tory?
Picture Credit: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0, GameKeeper