An oligarchy historically is a society where political and economic life is dominated by a small number of very rich individuals, the oligarchs. The thesis put forward by Ferdinand Mount in this book is that Britain is an oligarchy, which has arisen because politicians and others have successfully put across the view that only by concentrating power can the nation/company/organization achieve its goals. Inherent laziness of the bulk of the population has resulted in failure to challenge this unproven assumption. There are many consequences: politicians have come to believe they always know what is best, despite evidence of their many catastrophic failures; the powers of local councils have been drastically reduced, because 90% of their funds now come from central government; senior people in the financial sector have been allowed to set up structures that pay themselves vast salaries, often independent of the performance of the company they manage. Above all, the influence of Parliament has been drastically reduced, and even Cabinet under Tony Blair ceased to be a serious policy-making body. This in particular has contributed hugely to the disillusionment with the political process of the bulk of the population, resulting in dismally low turnouts at elections. All these aspects, and many others, of the British oligarchy are discussed in detail by Mount in a beautiful crystal-clear style that is devastating in its exposure of the failures, both ethical and practical, of so many powerful people.
Many books on modern social problems make a good analysis of the problems, but fizzle out with a few unrealistic suggestions for a solution. This is not a criticism that can be leveled against Mount. In the concluding chapters he succinctly summaries the main areas where problems have be tackled: the City, political parties, Parliament and the civil service, local government, and the EU. He then gives persuasive arguments how these might be solved, with examples, including: increasing the power of shareholders (which very recently has had some successes in curbing bankers bonuses); restoring local democracy; capping the ratio of salaries of the highest to lowest paid in an organization; and adopting some practices from mainland Europe. He also judges the actions of the Coalition government in this area. Overall, this is an excellent explanation of how our society has arrived at its present state and what can realistically be done to improve the situation. We all ultimately bear some responsibility for its failings, and so there can be no excuse for not reading this book.
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