Five things you didn’t know about Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's wealthiest citizen

The steel king had a recent spat with François Hollande.

A recent spat with François Hollande has revealed just how much clout is carried by Britain’s wealthiest individual. After Arnaud Montebourg, French Minister for Industrial Recovery, threatened nationalising ArcelorMittal’s French steel furnaces, its owner Lakshmi Mittal went straight to the Elysée Palace to call a meeting with Hollande. The entrepreneur and politician battled out a deal that, by Monday afternoon, revealed Mittal as the winner: his steel plants will not be nationalised. However, this is not the first time Mittal has thrown his industrial might against politics. Here are five other things you may not have known about Lakshmi Mittal:

  1. The Indian born magnate has clashed once before with a French president. During Jacque Chirac’s tenure, Mittal went through with a hostile takeover of the French company, Arcelor, against the President’s wishes. Allegations of xenophobia caused Chirac to later comment: "In principle, we have absolutely nothing against a non-European taking over a European company."    
  2. Hostility with French politicians is balanced with warm relations to the British. A major Labour Party donor, Mittal was accused in 2002 of buying political power. When a Romanian state steel company was being auctioned off, Tony Blair wrote a letter to the Romanian Government in favour of Mittal’s LNM. The letter, when revealed, caused uproar, especially since LNM was not registered in Britain, but in the Dutch Antilles, exempting it from hefty tax.     
  3. Although he only moved to Britain in the 1990s, Mittal is now our wealthiest citizen. His personal $20.7 billion is larger than the GDP of Equatorial Guinea.
  4. The ArcelorMittal Orbit is named after him. The red tower, designed by Anish Kapoor and dubbed the Hubble Bubble by Boris Johnson, was built with his own steel.
  5. After long negotiations, Mittal was the first person granted a private party in the Palace of Versailles. The occasion: the engagement of his daughter, Vanisha, who then moved in next door at 9A Palace Greens, Kensington Garden.
Lakshmi Mittal. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.