The ‘divine right of kings’ belongs in the dustbin

“Because I’m worth it.”

Ah – the super-rich’s justification for their wealth through the ages.  Or at least since 1971 when L’Oréal first came up with the slogan.

But are they?  Medieval monarchs asserted the ‘divine right of kings.’  That their political power derived from God so they were not accountable to any earthly authority such as a parliament.  A handy get-out-of-jail free card, but one that didn’t work out so well for the first King Charles.

‘Divine right’ looks transparently self-serving by today’s standards. But is everything we accept now really grounded in solid intellectual foundations?

We’re constantly told “there’s no money” – for free school meals, insulating homes or key worker pay.  But billionaires have plenty. And there are 177 of them in the UK, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. 

When over 7 million households have been pushed into fuel poverty, it’s a contrast worth examining.  The fuel price crisis is not a law of nature.  Wholesalers are charging more for the gas from the North Sea.  For the electricity from our wind turbines.  The wind hasn’t put its costs up.  The workers producing this energy haven’t got a 300% pay rise.  Fuel poverty is an exact mirror of billionaire profiteering. 

So how do we change it?

Last week my fellow Metro Mayors and I met with Labour front benchers to input into the next manifesto, via Labour’s National Policy Forum.  It was like Shadow Cabinet speed-dating.  And some were definitely worth keeping in touch with. 

Lou Haigh, shadowing transport, was on board with our plans for re-opening the Leamside Line – vital for public transport in our region.

Jonny Reynolds, shadowing business, was sold on the case for expanding employee ownership of companies – one way of shifting the balance of power in favour of those who actually do the work.

Yvette Cooper, shadowing the Home Office, agreed that we need to help people early – by supporting kids who are excluded from school, and stopping them drifting into crime. 

Ed Miliband, leading Labour’s net zero agenda, agreed that we need to enforce the ‘local content’ rules – so wind farms in British waters are 60% built here.  That’ll create thousands of jobs.    

A Labour Government looks increasingly likely.  But I don’t want to wait.  And I don’t want to depend on going to Westminster like Oliver Twist. 

We won’t tackle wealth inequality by raising taxes on working people. We have to be smarter than that.

We’ll do a better job if we ditch the L’Oréal doctrine and go for universal wealth generation.  Everyone must have the opportunity – and support – to thrive.  Wherever they live and whatever their family background.  We need tools to generate wealth here, and keep it here. 

Tools like Earnback.

In my time as Mayor, every £1 we’ve invested in job creation returns over £3 to the Treasury in payroll taxes alone. 

Imagine if government let us keep the first year and a half of payroll taxes and benefit savings on those new jobs. We’d reinvest that money, creating more jobs and a stronger economy, in a virtuous circle.

Tools like Invest to Save.

Where Mayors can pitch to government that if we achieve a social good, we get the money saved from health, criminal justice or the environment. 

We agree on how our work will be marked by government and agree a rate of return.

People in warm homes don’t get ill as much.  Studies have shown that every £1 invested in home insulation saves the NHS 42p.  Add in the long-term energy savings, and the jobs created, then retrofitting homes looks a lot more affordable.  We could start by working with private landlords. 

Let’s remove the Whitehall shackles that stop us fixing problems here. 

We wouldn’t allow anyone to use a sound system that pumped out a billion decibels. It would damage everyone’s hearing for miles around. And it would be millions times more than what’s needed for a good time.  So it is with billionaires – extreme wealth concentration harms other people. 

Like the ‘divine right of kings,’ the ‘L’Oréal doctrine’ belongs in the dustbin of history.  Nobody should be above the law.  And no one should be worth a billion pounds.