Toffs and prejudice

On a train to see my daughter in Edinburgh last week I was seated opposite a nanotechnology geek. As she opened the newspaper, she exclaimed ‘Good to see the right man win. We don’t want a toff as mayor of London!’

I was a little taken aback. I have had numerous brushes with the Goldsmith family over the years and her attitude was clearly prejudiced. For a woman of her education and background her strident attitude seemed odd.

I first came across the Goldsmith family through their Swiss adviser who asked me for my opinion on the removal of one of their advisers. The matter was resolved swiftly and amicably and I had no further involvement.

On this occasion I did not meet the family, but got an insight into how the wealth was structured.

I met the family many years later through my friend Tracy, the Marchioness of Worcester. Like the Goldsmiths Tracy is passionate about the environment and the quality of lives of animals bred for slaughter. She is a tireless campaigner for ‘Farms not Factories’.

Goldsmith fist became interested in wild life and our environment through the nature programmes of David Attenborough and the works of Gerald Durrell.  In 1997 he was appointed Reviews Editor of the Ecologist by Edward Goldsmith, his uncle, the magazine’s founding editor, owner and publisher. In 1998 he became Editor-in-Chief and Director of the Ecologist, but did not draw a salary.

In 2005, David Cameron approved Goldsmith’s appointment as Deputy Chairman under former Environment Secretary John Gummer of the Quality of Life Policy Group. The 600-page report prepared by himself and Gummer recommended increased taxes on short-haul flights and on highly polluting vehicles; rebates on Stamp Duty and Council Tax for people who improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Goldsmith’s impeccable green credentials, his success as an editor and journalist are, however overlooked by many voters and journalists when reminded that he is one of the wealthiest MPs in Parliament. Sir James Goldsmith, his father,  died in 1997 with a £1.7billion fortune from which Goldsmith is estimated to have an income of £5million a year.

It is also public knowledge that Goldsmith, prior to becoming an MP had non-domiciled status and has been quoted in the Evening Standard as saying that non-dom status let individuals ‘make lifestyle choices to avoid paying tax’. Probably not a very wise thing to say, but it is true, legal and honest.

During his campaign to become mayor of London there was much criticism of Goldsmith for playing the ‘racist card’, but not a word of criticism against his opponents for playing the ‘toff’ card. No one seems to have a word of sympathy for Goldsmith who stands defenceless against the prejudice and envy for his privileged status.

Status and privilege would appear to make one ‘fair game’ for journalists who have quizzed Goldsmith about his expenses and donations. It is assumed, because of his wealth, that Goldsmith will behave in an underhand and mischievous manner. This is no less prejudice than hinting that Muslims are responsible for terrorist atrocities. It is true that some ‘toffs’ do behave in an underhand and mischievous manner, similarly some Muslims commit terrorist atrocities – but to take the example of a few and assume that all behave in such a manner is what makes prejudice so unpalatable.  

Needless to say the nanotechnology geek struck up a conversation declaring Goldsmith to be her bête noir. I moved the conversation onto nanotechnology – about which I know very little and in due course she asked me what I did.

I grasped the nettle firmly. I told her that I advised people like the Goldsmith family on estate, succession, offshore trust matters and family governance. Goldsmith I said could do little about his father’s wealth. It was in trust and the trustees have an obligation to do what his father wishes provided it is what they consider to be in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Therefore, if Goldsmith wanted to give the monies to a charity – he cannot. However, he has done what he can about his non-dom status by declaring that he is now UK domiciled.

I pointed out that in all the coverage of the Mayoral election there was little or no mention that Goldsmith had chosen to work. He was given no credit for deciding not to live a life of leisure, or for choosing to dedicate his life to make the world a better place. Goldsmith is rich; he has a choice, but this is overlooked. I do not think it is fair that the racist card is considered politically incorrect whereas it is ok to bash the rich. There needs to be much more information about what it is like to be rich; information was needed to put a stop to racial, sexual, and religious prejudice, the same is true about prejudice against the rich.

Much to my surprise, the nanotechnology geek confessed that she had never thought of rich folk as people, or that her attitude was prejudiced. I decided not ask whether our conversation had changed her opinion on Goldsmith, I did not want to get into a discussion on politics.

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