The BBC's Super-Rich and Us. Photo: BBC/Fresh One Productions
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Our masochistic fascination with the super-rich must end now

The vast majority of us spend our lives worrying about money. If you don't, shut up.

For a couple of years, I worked the odd shift on a luxury magazine. It was (and still is) the Argos catalogue of the One Per Cent, with features on yachting in the turquoisest parts of the Caribbean, wine tasting in the Frenchest parts of France and watches with price tags that would make a Russian oligarch choke on his breakfast caviar. And I was its occasional stand-in fact checker. For the most part, this meant looking at prices of things. Expensive things.

I remember phoning the press office for a posh jeweller to check that a particular diamond necklace was indeed £350,000. There’s something so embarrassing about discussing that sort of figure over the phone. Both me and the affable PR girl – Imogen, or Francesca, or Verity – clearly knew it was stupid. I wanted to say something. I wanted to say, “So, we have the necklace down as three hundred and fifty fucking thousand pounds. Is that the correct monumentally insane price?

I didn’t though, because Imogen/Francesca/Verity was nice. So I just sat, stewing in adolescently communist thoughts.

“Whoever buys this necklace,” I thought, “fuck you and your things”.

And things, it seems, have never been so poignant. TV screens are plastered with Bentleys and jizzing bottles of Dom Perignon, following the trend for documentaries and reality shows about the super-rich. We can’t get enough of these people. The BBC’s Posh People: Inside Tatler gave us a porny peep at old money, while more recent two-part documentary The Super-Rich and Us focuses more on the newer sort. Both kinds suck in their own ways. And in a world where the 85 richest people are as wealthy as the poorest three billion, a £350,000 necklace is a sign of things gone arse up and tits backwards. It’s trite, I know. But sometimes trite things need to be repeated again and again and again, until the right people start listening.

It’s about time we truly made pariahs out of billionaires. At least to the point at which we scrub them the hell off our TV screens. Fair enough, The Super-Rich and Us, the first episode of which aired last week, is actually a look into how the recession has widened the gap between rich and poor. It’s not meant to be aspirational, but it might as well be. It features interviews with billionaires doing some pretty billionaire-ish stuff. No one wants to see that. Frankly, I’d rather look at a haemorrhoid, or Nigel Farage, or even Nigel Farage’s haemorrhoid, than another Chelsea bastard shoving his utterly carefree lifestyle down the population’s collective cake hole. Visibly rich people on our screens are just the fattest dumplings in a stew of televisual depressingness. “Everything you love to eat is killing you. No, really and truly killing the fuck out of you,” says TV, “and if carbs don’t kill you, terrorists will. And if they don’t, we’re more than due a colossal natural disaster. And, by the way, here’s diarrhoea in a sharp suit driving its Lamborghini to the nearest diamond shop.”

This constant showcasing of freakish wealth almost wouldn’t be so offensive if it weren’t happening alongside programmes like last year’s Benefits Street. While making monsters of the working class, we’re, OK, not so much lauding the super-rich, but giving them enough exposure to show off their things until they run out of things to show us. Flashiness used to be a matter of bad taste and nothing else. Now though, it’s about so much more than aesthetics. When society has never been less equal, flaunting what you have (no matter how ugly and useless it seems to the rest of the world) is, above all, profoundly insensitive.

We’ve had our fun judging the super-rich for their jewel-encrusted bidets, but it’s about time, now, we stop giving them a platform. Effectively, they’re only making us more miserable. Just look at the Rich Kids of Instagram Tumblr. Boy, do we love to hate these insecure teenagers who post pictures of themselves pouring champagne over cornflakes, amongst other costly capers. They say we’re just jealous, and we are. Not of their god-awful things, but of their luck.  It’s one thing to have earned (ethically or not) enough money to swim in, it’s quite another just to happen to be the offspring of someone who did. The vast majority of us spend a decent chunk of our lives worrying about money. If you’re not one of us, kindly shut up about it.

Our masochistic fascination with the super-rich needs to end right now. While we’re waiting for that to happen, if you’re lucky enough to be flying somewhere, just make sure you fart when you’re walking through business class. For humanity’s sake.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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