George Monbiot writes: In the documentary series which finished on Friday evening, the heiress Tamara Ecclestone set out to prove that she isn’t “a pointless, quite spoilt, really stupid, vacuous, empty human being”. This endeavour was not wholly successful. Channel 5 showed her supervising the refurbishment of her £45m home in London, in which she commissioned a £1m bathtub carved from Mexican crystal, an underground swimming pool complex, her own nightclub, a lift for her Ferrari, a bowling alley with crystal-studded balls and a spa and massage parlour for her five dogs, to save her the trouble of taking them to Harrods to have their hair sprayed and their nails painted. But there was something the series didn’t tell us: how much of this you helped to pay for.
In court a fortnight ago, her father, the Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, revealed that the fact his family’s offshore trust, Bambino Holdings, was controlled by his ex-wife rather than himself could have saved him “in excess of £2bn” in tax. The name suggests that the trust could have something to do with supporting his daughter’s attempt to follow the teachings of St Francis of Assisi.
Ecclestone has also been adept at making use of the corporate welfare state: the transfer by the government of wealth and power from the rest of us to the 1%. After the mogul made a donation to Labour’s election fund, Tony Blair demanded that F1 be exempted from the European Union’s ban on tobacco sponsorship. The government built a new dual carriageway to the F1 racetrack at Silverstone.
In other countries his business has received massive state subsidies. Russia, for example, has recently agreed to build a circuit for Ecclestone to race his cars, and then charge itself $280m for the privilege of letting him use it. Working in India in 2004, I came across the leaked minutes of a cabinet meeting in which the consultancy McKinsey insisted that the desperately poor state of Andhra Pradesh – where millions die of preventable diseases – cough up between £50m and £75m a year to support F1. The minutes also revealed that the state’s chief minister had lobbied the prime minister of India to exempt Ecclestone’s business from the national ban on tobacco advertising.
Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor: that is how our economies work. Those at the bottom are subject to the rigours of the free market. Those at the top are as pampered and protected as Tamara Ecclestone’s dogs.