Richard Drax – Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax – the MP for South Dorset since 2010, seen here enjoying an ice cream with another ‘Greedy Bastard’ Jacob Rees Mogg.
You may think I am being gratuitously offensive using the term ‘Greedy Bastards’ so let Graham Scambler explain in his opening piece on Jacob Rees Mogg.
“I’d best open this likely ‘series’ with a word about the technical term ‘greedy bastards’. These comprise that subset of exceptionally wealthy accumulators of capital intent on further accumulation via donating, sponsoring, lobbying and otherwise cajoling favourable policymaking by the state’s power elite. The adjective ‘greed’ captures their all-consuming focus on personal wealth and influence through capital accumulation, and the term ‘bastards’ reflects a willingness to privilege this project over any kind of compassionate concern for others. These greedy bastards are comfortable with class-exploitation and state-oppression; they can live with the austerity-induced misery and suicides of those deemed and dismissed as lesser mortals.”
It matters not if they love their mum or support the local village church fete. This is not about a personality characteristic. It is about surfing social structures they are completely unwilling to change. Moreover they act in way to shore it up.
Right, now that is out of the way let’s get on with it.
On 13th December several newspapers reported that he was asked to make reparations to the people of Jamaica and Barbados for the damages done by slavery on the Drax family plantations between 1640 and 1836. He inherited Drax Hall in St George Barbados in 2017. The Daily Mail, as Mail Online, also ran the story with a picture of the plantation showing an old corrugated iron roof storage shed rather than the grand house that is Drax Hall. The picture, I suggest, was deliberately used to play down the fabulous wealth Drax actually inherited from his family’s long standing activities. Anyone seeing the sheds might think what the fuss on reparations is all about, and surely first impressions looking at the picture suggests the wealth gained over the years must have dissipated by now. It firmly establishes in the minds of Mail readers that this is history and therefore cannot be connected to the present. I would suggest this is a common tactic used to distant and exonerate all current wealthy beneficiaries of British colonialism. It is a very necessary tactic otherwise you stain the reputation not only of Mercantile Capitalists and their current wealthy beneficiaries, but also of Aristocracy and Monarchy.
There is a picture, however, of Charborough House, Drax’s UK home, further down the Mail Online piece. This picture is distanced from the first in the article, and I would think deliberately so to indicate the distances between the colonial slave owning past in the Caribbean and the post colonial aristocratic present in the United Kingdom. The Mail also chose to picture the emancipatory festival of 1834 in Barbados. It depicts smiling and dancing well dressed ex-slaves while a white man, who might be a plantation owner, smiles paternalistically upon the scene. The choice of this scene rather than the actual horrors of slavery is again telling. The message the Mail is subliminally getting across is this: “Yes slavery was horrible, but we ended it, the slaves danced, its history…so that’s that”.
The Mail quotes Drax who defends his position by saying:
“I am keenly aware of the slave trade in the West Indies, and the role my very distant ancestor played in it is deeply, deeply regrettable. But no one can be held responsible today for what happened many hundreds of years ago. This is a part of the nation’s history, from which we must all learn.” Nothing to see here, move on.
Note the use of the words ‘very distant ancestor’ (singular) rather than ‘my family’, again I suggest is used to morally distance himself. This is the use of language to create what Davies and Harré call a ‘subject position’ of ‘innocent’ (“not me guv”). I also wonder, what lesson has been learned apart from the obvious that slavery is an inhumane abomination unless you believe in inequality, the superiority of an ethnic group or the prioritisation of wealth/progress.
His response and the Mail’s piece illustrate the stock response one expects from those whose ‘class habitus’ is one of defence of the status quo and capital accumulation through historical colonialism, dispossession and genocide. A class habitus (Bourdieu) is a discrete mind set which predisposes us to think and act in predictable ways. Drax’s class habitus not only pushes him to the ‘not responsible defence’ (no one said he is) but also involves his negative attitudes towards Black Lives Matter. Instead of focusing on the substance of the points made by BLM he decided to attack two protesters whom he called rioters:
“The desecration of the Cenotaph by rioters two weeks ago, on the actual D-Day anniversary, was beyond ironic.” He is vociferous on immigration, too. Voting to increase curbs in 2013, he said: “I believe, as do many of my constituents, that this country is full.”
Drax is a fully paid up member of the ‘Greedy Bastard’ club. Graham Scambler’s “Greedy Bastards Hypothesis’ is a call to sociologists and others to examine in detail that fraction of the 0.01% – Capital Monopolists and their apologists and allies in the political power elites. Dax is both a Capital Monopolist and as a Member of Parliament firmly part of the political power elite working to further his own and his class interest.
The GBH contends that health inequalities for example are the unintended consequences of the strategic actions of the GB’s. Scambler contends that there is a class-command dynamic of structural relations that individuals such as Drax use to further their own and their family interests. Drax is both Greedy – because he privileges capital and wealth accumulation over just about everything else, hence instant dismissal of the benefits he accrues from historical slavery – and a Bastard because he displays a ‘callous indifference to those struggling to cope’.
To substantiate those claims it is necessary to examine his family background, education, career and wealth and perhaps voting record.
From his own website we get this portrait of the man: An ex soldier, ‘serving’ across the world. Then studying land management at the Royal Agricultural College and then a 17 year career in journalism. All very Tory, all very petit bourgeois middle class. It then says he ‘took over the family business in 2006’ and then mentions his charitable/voluntary work as an Honorary Watchkeeper at Portland’s Coastwatch station which is run by volunteers. His altruistic credentials further served by stating “Keen to educate children about the countryside, Richard continues to invite schoolchildren to his farm every year”.
That’s nice of him. A bit of ‘noblesse oblige’ – a helping hand to the lower orders.
“He will continue to serve, without fear or favour.” Unless of course you are a skiver not a striver or a riotous supporter of BLM.
To be fair, no one is going to do anything other than paint a favourable picture on one’s own website. In advertising terms this is called a ‘puff piece’ and he is no different in this from every social media wannabe influencer and the rest of us on our own social media sites. And yet I think it is deeply misleading, as it plays into the idea of being merely middle class, just like the voters he wants to support him rather than the wealthy greedy bastard he actually is.
Drax was born in 1958. The family name Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax is the quadruple-barrelled surname of the descendants of Admiral The Honourable Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (1880–1967), who was the younger son of John William Plunkett, 17th Baron of Dunsany by his wife Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor, née Burton, later Ernle-Erle-Drax (1855–1916). The surname of Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax was assumed in lieu of Plunkett, his name from birth, by royal licence on 4 October 1916. Ernle is pronounced earnly. He was privately educated at Harrow and later graduated from Sandhurst.
At this point, I suggest the adoption of the simplified name to merely Drax has a role in disguising his heritage in order perhaps to seem more ‘ordinary middle class.’ Whether this was the intention, who knows but it serves that purpose in any case.
According to wikipedia: He lives in the ancestral seat, Charlborough House in Dorset and has the lordship of the manor of Longburton. He just happens to be the largest landowner in the county owning approximately 13,870 acres. In addition he owns two other properties, the 2,200 acre Ellerton Abbey in Swaledale and the 520 acre Copperthwaite grouse moor. According to the Guardian, he has opaque estate finances, with at least 6 trusts and other disconnected financial entities. He owns 125 Dorset properties personally or through family trusts and could be worth as much as £150 million. He also owns a £4.5 million holiday villa at Sandbanks which is rented out at £6,734 per week. For those who do not know of Sandbanks, it is a particularly expensive piece of real estate on the Dorset coast.
He is the eldest son of Henry Walter Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (1928–2017)JP DL and The Hon. Pamela Weeks (1931–2019) and a grandson of Admiral The Hon. Sir Reginald Drax, younger son of the 17th Lord Dunsany thereby being in remainder to the ancient Barony of Dunsany (cr. 1462): the second oldest title in the Peerage of Ireland. His great-uncle was the writer and playwright the 18th Lord Dunsany, and his maternal grandfather was General the Lord Weeks. His first wife (divorced 1997) was Zara Legge-Bourke, younger sister of the royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke, relations of the Earl of Dartmouth. Drax married his second wife; Eliza, daughter of Commander James Dugdale RN (related to David Cameron). Drax since married Norwegian-born Elsebet Bødtker and has four children in total. At least six of his ancestors, including John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Erle-Drax and the 17th Lord Dunsany, were Members of Parliament for Dorset and Gloucestershire between the 1680s and 1880s. A cousin is the 19th and present Lord Dunsany
Not so middle class after all.
During the 2010 United Kingdom general election campaign, the Daily Mirror reported that Drax’s family had earned their fortune through slavery. Drax’s response questioned his responsibility for “something that happened 300 or 400 years ago”, stating “it’s not what I stand for”, and cited the desperation of his opponents- “all they can do is pick at bits of my family history”. In 2013, the BBC noted that his ancestor John Erle-Drax, who had an estate in Barbados, was recorded in a database created by University College London as having received £4,293 12s 6d in compensation for 189 slaves when slavery was abolished . No wonder the chap in the picture watching the dancing ex slaves was smiling!
Historian David Olusoga has stated that: “From the very early stages of the family’s involvement in slavery and the sugar trade, the Drax dynasty were able to generate extraordinary wealth through the cultivation of sugar grown by enslaved Africans.” Today’s plantation workers earn about £24 a day, about half the average wage in Barbados.
Drax and his ilk are clearly surfing the waves of past and current privilege.
As for his voting record,
On social issues he has voted against equal gay rights and almost always voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.
On Welfare and benefits Consistently voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the “bedroom tax”). Consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices. Consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. Almost always voted for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support. Consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits. Generally voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed.
On tax and Employment: Generally voted for increasing the rate of VAT which of course makes zero difference to him. Generally voted for higher taxes on alcohol which could be seen as being public health minded but again this makes no difference to the wealthy who can afford fine wines, craft ales and rare malt whiskies at any price. Almost always voted against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000. Generally voted against a banker’s bonus tax, voted a mixture of for and against higher taxes on banks. Consistently voted against an annual tax on the value of expensive homes, almost always voted for reducing capital gains tax. Almost always voted for more restrictive regulation of trade union activity.
On housing: consistently voting for phasing out secure tenancies for life while of course enjoying a secure tenancy for himself while also being a landlord. Consistently voted for charging market rents to high earners renting a council home.
His voting record on other issues display all of the traits of a socially conservative, neoliberal with a bent towards centralising power at Westminster. Drax is wholly part of the modern neoliberal conservative party who massively benefits from colonialism and current property portfolios which of course he has done very little to ‘earn’ in any sense someone from the working class would understand the word. His enormous wealth provides a buffer against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune while doing little to alter the social and economic structures of those at the bottom.