Most of the women on the Sunday Times richlist owe their fortunes to their parents or husbands

No cause for celebration.

There are a record-breaking number of women on this year’s Sunday Times Rich List with 118 women making the cut, ten more than the previous high of 108 recorded in 2012. The 100 richest women owned a combined fortune of £55.287 billion — which is around a fifth of the net worth of Britain’s hundred richest (a list that includes nine women), but is hardly a measly sum.

This might appear cause for celebration for those who wish to see more women progress in business, but the small number of self-made women to make the list is striking. While the Sunday Times notes that this year a record 778 rich-listers made their own fortune, compared to just 43 of the 200 rich-listers recorded in 1989, the list of Britain’s wealthiest women tells a very different story.

If you discount the number of women who made the list due to "family wealth" (which they may have contributed towards to a greater or lesser degree), inheritance or divorce (Slavica Ecclestone owes her £740m fortune to a lucrative split with Bernie) — the first self-made female richlister is Elena Baturina.

Baturina is the UK’s 12th richest woman and comes 122nd on the rich list. I interviewed her last year, and she spoke of her humble upbringing and the challenges of building up a business in Russia’s macho, male-dominated business world. Her critics accuse her of exploiting her husband’s position as Mayor of Moscow to secure lucrative construction contracts while Baturina insists that her husband's job actually constrained her ambitions.

The next self-made woman on the list is JK Rowling, Britain’s 20th wealthiest woman and 156th on the overall rich list. Rowling made her fortune writing the Harry Potter series. Her story is familiar to many — she wrote the first Harry Potter book while struggling to make ends meet as a single mother in Edinburgh, and became a multi-millionaire within a few years — and it’s the kind of rags-to-riches tale that gives people cheer.

This story, however, is unusual for a female rich-lister — the vast majority of women on the list owe their fortunes to rich parents, rich husbands or rich exes (in total five women made it on the list thanks to divorce.)

If you were to take the Sunday Times Rich list as an (admittedly imperfect) sign of whether women in modern Britain are able to make it to the very top of industry business, then despite the records broken, the list of Britain’s wealthiest women only illustrates that there’s plenty of room for progress.

This article forst appeared on Spear's

The first self-made female richlister is Elena Baturina. Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

The electoral pool they are fishing in is shallow – perhaps even non-existent. 

The press and Labour’s political opponents are hammering Jeremy Corbyn over his party's pledge/ambition/cruel lie to win an election (delete depending on your preference) to not only abolish tuition fees for new students, but to write off the existing debts of those who have already graduated.

Labour has conceded (or restated, again, depending on your preference) that this is merely an “ambition” – that the party had not pledged to wipe out existing tuition fee debt but merely to scrap fees.

The party’s manifesto and the accompanying costings document only included a commitment to scrap the fees of students already in the system. What the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are claiming as a pledge is the following remark, made by Jeremy Corbyn in his Q&A with NME readers:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”

Is this a promise, an aspiration or a target? The answer probably depends on how you feel about Jeremy Corbyn or fees policy in general. (My reading, for what it’s worth, is that the full quote looks much more like an objective than a promise to my eyes but that the alternative explanation is fair enough, too.)

The more interesting question is whether or not there is an electoral prize to be had, whether from the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, for hammering Labour on this topic. On that one the answer is open and shut: there really isn’t one.

Why not? Because the evidence is clear: that pledging to abolish tuition fees largely moves two groups of voters: students who have yet to graduate and actually start paying back the fees, and their parents and grandparents, who are worried about the debt burden.

There is not a large caucus of fee-paying graduates – that is, people who have graduated and are earning enough to start paying back their tuition fees – who are opposed to the system. (We don’t have enough evidence but my expectation is that the parents of people who have already graduated are also less fussed. They can see that their children are not crippled by tuition fee debt, which forms a negligible part of a graduate’s tax and living expenses, as opposed to parents who are expecting a worrying future for their children who have yet to graduate.)

Put simply, there isn’t a large group of people aged 21 or above voting for Corbyn who are that concerned about a debt write-off. Of those that are, they tend to have an ideological stance on the value of a higher education system paid for out of general taxation – a stance that makes it much harder for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to peel those votes off.

The whole thing is a bit of a blind alley for the parties of the centre and right. The Tory difficulty at this election wasn’t that they did badly among 18-21s, though they did do exceptionally badly. With the exception of the wave year of 1983, they have always tended to do badly with this group. Their problem is that they are doing badly with 30-45s, usually the time in life that some younger Labour voters begin to vote Conservative, largely but not exclusively because they have tended to get on the property ladder.

Nowadays of course, that cohort, particularly in the south of England, is not getting on the property ladder and as a result is not turning blue as it ages. And that’s both a bigger worry and a more lucrative electoral target for Labour’s opponents than litigating an NME interview.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.