Brexit’s threat to the lie of the land

All those castles rather give the game away, don’t they? When William the Conqueror’s friends and relations wound up in Wales they weren’t coming to enjoy the view.

Now you may be wondering why I’m on about the robber barons of another millennium, but bear with me. Today, we learned who is currently getting the best out of the CAP payments system.cilgerran

Huge sums of money go to landowners largely for doing not much more than owning land. Apparently, the top 100 shared no less than £89m.

The lucky 100 are a mixed bag, but its no surprise that ‘old’ families seem to do very well from this hand-out. A couple of years ago two economists looked at how surnames relate to wealth, and it turned out that people with Norman names are still doing better than the rest of us centuries after their ancestors’ land grab.

On the whole, a Baskerville, Darcy or Mandeville is likely to be better-off than a Bowen, a Davies or a Morris. No surprise then that as you look down the list of those getting the biggest slice of the farm subsidy cake there are plenty of dukes, earls and the like.

Take the Duke of Westminster, whose distant ancestor was William I’s chief huntsman. Many generations later the current duke’s farming company chases subsidy, winning a handsome £437,434 in the latest hand-out.

You can find out how much your neighbours have had in recent years by visiting the website of the body that co-ordinates UK payments. It lets you put in a postcode and then up comes names and numbers, so I now know that in my postcode area alone 70 recipients share no less than £1.2m.

Brexit means Brexit, and it also means that this sorry system has to change. The situation was summed up nicely this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme by the BBC’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin. If you weren’t up before 7am you can catch up with it here on the BBC website (fast forward to about 35:00).

In a few mintues of chat he takes you from the wine lakes and butter moutains of the 1970s to the current (crazy) arrangement, which sees landowners get paid by the acre. He also explains how that has pushed up land values, which prices many wannabe farmers out of the market.

Of course, things are going to change with Brexit. And optimists look to a future that serves the majority of people far better; for example, George Monbiot says we can bring an end to what he calls the ‘unembarrassed robbery of the poor by the rich’.

It would be nice to think it could happen. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed – but maybe not holding my breath. The current arrangement is a system that has served people who have know exactly when to pull up the drawbridge.