Rosalind Robson reviews Whose Britain Is It Anyway?, BBC2
Inequality of land ownership used to one of the major concerns of the early working class and socialist movements in Britain. It is still of great importance around the world, wherever people depend on the land for subsistence.
Historically in Britain the right to access and use land (particularly land traditionally deemed to be for "common", i.e. universal, use) became extremely important when the "enclosure" of common land by the landlords took place, on a massive scale from the end of the 18th century. The landords claimed ownership of common land in order to introduce modern agricultural production. Today centuries on from the massive social upheaval caused by the enclosure movement, when the vast majority of people live in urban areas, the labour movement very rarely debates the issue of land ownership.
Yet, as father and son team Peter and Dan Snow showed in this programme, the shape of land ownership in this country reflects both the history and present reality of class society. Britain remains, in land ownership terms, a very unequal place indeed. Despite the basically workaday presentation and a rather silly giant pie chart (compulsory given it is Peter Snow), the facts in this programme would have been fascinating to anyone interested in re-organising society along more equal lines.
Basically the landed gentry and the modern aristocracy continue to own a whopping 50% of land - 30 million out of 60 million acres. Top nobs, the Royal Family own just 1% of all land. Enough for Prince Charles to earn £36,000 a day from the various (untaxed) land uses of his Duchy of Cornwall. Apparently not much has changed here since a hundred years ago.
Despite taking a battering in the 1970s from death duties and the like, the landed aristocracy (amazingly given the limited gene pool) have managed to adapt. Perhaps not so surprisingly given this involved doing something they are born and bred to do - grabbing other peoples' money. They survived by accepting every grant and tax break going - grants to "conserve" the land, tax breaks in return for letting the plebs come in and see their vast stores of bling and artworks.
Other facts were revealed in the programme that might have been, in different hands, a source of great satire. For instance during the 70s very many vicars sold off bits of local church land in their trusteeship (known as glebe land) and personally profited from the deals. By 1978, when trusteeship was taken out of individual vicars' hands, 1 million acres had been sold off! But the church (of England) still owns 1% of land and on much of it sits commercial property. So much for not worshipping the god of Mammon.
The state too has profited from the land it owns. Specifically the Ministry of Defence, which together with the Forestry Commission owns 5% of all land, has been getting rid of a lot. The Treasury has earned £1.4 billion in recent years from MoD land sales. Most of this has land was taken off other people during the Second World War but has been sold to property developers for housing. To build homes for people like us, homes which are a third smaller than those of a hundred years ago. It has to be that way because 90% of us live on less than 10% of the land. So there's something to throw back at an anti-asylum loud mouth when they tell you Britian is over-crowded.
Something else to bear in mind, to stiffen our resolve when we start up a class war against the Duke of Northumberland et al, 50% of land isn't registered. That means even according to their own feudal-capitalist laws the Dukes and Earls don't "own" most of it anyway!