Hilaire Belloc’s first piece of political writing was an essay on the origins of Liberalism: he said it began with William Cobbett and his rural radicalism, rather than with Richard Cobden and the free trade campaign. I think he was right.
I keep thinking about Cobbett as the various stories flow through every day of the outrageous salaries and bonuses, not just in banking, but at the top of the public and private sectors alike. I read yesterday that the top 123 executives at Transport for London all earn over £100,000 a year.
That doesn’t really compare to the staggering greed of Fred the Shred, or the secretive culture of Roger Jenkins, but it is bad enough.
William Cobbett had a word for this. He called this combination of useless, feather-bedded appointees, and the money system they colluded over, ‘The Thing’. We have The Thing just as much today, and its tentacles are becoming clearer. Just as it was in Cobbett’s day, The Thing feeds off the rest of us – we pay for these sinecures in the public sector, but we also pay through our dwindling pensions for the huge bonuses in the financial sector. They rightly belong to the customers.
We await a political force capable of first naming The Thing, and then taking it apart.
Lord Wenlock on the Derwent Valley Light Railway, 1981
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