South of the River – Cash or community?


Compass-SouthComment logo 2Are you following Nigella’s Christmas Coke, sorry Cake, recipe this year?

Excuse the awful joke, but it’s Christmas. I don’t really care whether Nigella, or any other celebrity has a coke habit, but the trial of her personal assistants sheds an interesting light on the lives of the super-rich.

This is a world where you hire a yacht for the afternoon … for £4,000. Where the family accountant (because these families are businesses) doesn’t bat an eyelid at £100,000 credit card bills.

And then there’s Lord Lucan. I nearly delivered his papers you know. By which I mean Lucan got his papers from the shop I worked in, but he was on my mate Trevor’s round. The morning after the murder, Dave the shop manager insisted he’d deliver that particular paper in a vain attempt to get on television. Watching the ITV docudrama brought back a few memories, but it was the attitudes of these people, Lucan and “Aspers” in particular, that was so shocking. They were so posh, they wouldn’t have time Nigella or Saatchi – ghastly “new money” … and Jewish for heaven’s sake!

Lucan did everything “for his children”. I don’t think he loved them in the conventional sense, but they were “his line”, they would inherit the title. After Lucan’s disappearance a court awarded “possession” of the children to his family, rather than their mother. Inheritance is the family business for these people who don’t have to work for a living.

Running through these stories, of Nigella and Lucan, is the reek of their sense of entitlement. “I can do this because I have money” (or in Lucan’s case position) “I have money because I deserve money”.

But apparently this arrogance is not their fault. I came across this interesting little video about research that has been carried out at the University of California at Berkeley (thanks Mike Chitty).

First up they found it’s true that flash cars don’t stop at zebra crossings. More accurately high end executive cars, 4x4s and sports cars are less likely to stop at pedestrian crossings than the Skodas and Micras that you and I drive. Researchers stood and counted. I bet they use their indicators less and flash their headlights more too. I’m surprised BMW bother to fit indicators as their drivers rarely seem to use them, I’m not even clear they know what they’re for. Oh dear, I fear I may be ranting.

They run another experiment at Berkeley. It’s a game of Monopoly that’s been rigged to make it more accurate. One player gets more cash to start, gets to use both dice (moving faster and having the possibility of rolling doubles for extra turns). The other players can only use one dice (or is it die?) and only get £100 for passing Go.

The researchers then watch random students playing the game (a note for younger readers: I mean random in the proper, statistical sense, not your slang version). Anyway, no matter how many times they run the game, and no matter the students’ background or political views, the students with the leg-up behave the same way. They are unapologetic for their extra wealth and advantage, behaving as if they deserve it.

Then there are the pretzels. I should work in a bad pun at this stage referencing the classic Steely Dan album “Pretzel Logic”, but I’m not going to. A bowl of pretzels is positioned equidistant to all the players, but guess what? The privileged players take more and even grab pretzels while their mouths are still full.

What does it all mean? Is there a chicken and egg thing happening? I’d always assumed that that rich people got rich by being pushy and arrogant and assuming that some laws didn’t apply to them. I seem to remember Donald Trump saying tax was for the “little people”.

We live differently in South Leeds. In Belgravia they murder the nanny with lead piping, in Beeston a few weeks ago a woman conned an old man out of £600 of his pension. It was a despicable crime by an individual, but the community response was magnificent. A collection was started and quickly raised several hundred pounds, this is on the Cardinal estate where you don’t see many Rollers and Bentleys. The local Asda chipped in with a Christmas hamper and the British Legion offered him a respite holiday.

Jeremy Morton Aug13Take another example. At New Bewerley Community School, where 62% of the children receive free school meals, they raised £329 in one day for the Philippines’ Typhoon Appeal.

I would rather have that sense of community and generosity of spirit than shedloads of money. How’s that for a Christmas message?

I’m taking a break, but I’ll be back in two weeks with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.