This extraordinary book by Hywel Williams, a historian, journalist and broadcaster, vividly presents the new, post-1979 shape of the British ruling class. Unlike most surveys of Britain, by for example, Anthony Sampson, Will Hutton or Jeremy Paxman, he concludes that there is indeed a ruling class in Britain, though he swaddles this in the misleading phrase `power elites'.
He shows how this class is abandoning Britain and so is not a `British' class any more: "Britain, increasingly, has an elite whose attitudes are `offshore' and disconnected from the business of being British." They "have largely lost any sense of Britain as a national project and are largely disengaged from it."
He depicts the political elite, now more centralised than ever before in the House of Commons. He shows how governments and parliamentary parties all embrace the interests of finance capital. He also examines the professional elites, especially business consultants, IT firms, university vice-chancellors and City lawyers.
But the core of this book, as of the ruling class, is the financial and business elite. Williams shows us "the core competence of the City of London: reckless gambling on the one hand and well-spoken, beautifully suited, sharp practice on the other." He notes, "The rest of London - indeed the rest of Britain - could disappear tomorrow and the City would carry on functioning quite happily."
He shows how globalised capital, with its compulsory free movements of capital and labour, has produced ever greater wealth at one pole of society. In 2002, Britain's richest 5% owned 43% of Britain's total wealth, up from 36% in 1986, and they owned 62% of disposable wealth (i.e. less the value of homes), up from 46% in 1986.
But at the other pole of society, where the rest of us live, globalised capital has produced greater relative poverty. There are now eight million people with debts of more than £10,000, four million of whom owe more than £20,000. British homes are 70% dearer in relation to wages than they were in 2000; the average house costs six times the average income, seven times as much in London and the south-east.
Williams details "the elite's collective crassness, brutality and selfishness". He shows how the rulers "have proved to be the destroyers of the democratic aspiration and effective debate which should lie at the heart of an open society." He sums up, "Britain has allowed its power elites to effect a transformation which amounts to the degradation of an entire country."
The ruling class's pretence that their profit is our good has worn out. Williams has grasped what he calls, "the truth beneath the surface, even a surface as polished, pitiless and remorseless as the one presented to us by our power elites. After all, the more concentrated and extreme a form of power becomes then the more vigorously it digs, eventually, its own grave."