By Ed Moloney & Bob Mitchell
What is the difference between ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ of the early 1970’s and ‘Downtown Abbey’ in the 2010’s, apart from the obvious four decades or so (and the quality of writing, which is vastly superior in ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’)?
They were both set in English stately homes and dealt with the contrasting lifestyles of the rich and privileged masters and mistresses and their servants, so superficially there seems no difference worth speaking of.
Except watching ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’, you couldn’t help but think that you were witnessing a relic, a piece of history that truly belonged in the past, that the vast inequalities it portrayed would never be revisited on English society.
Watching Downtown Abbey however you get a very different impression, that the class differences of ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ are making a comeback and that while we may not see the stately home return with its footmen, butlers and kitchen skivvies, courtesy of Thatcher, Blair and now the Bullingdon set presided over by Cameron, Osborne and the execrable Boris, the income inequality that characterised pre-welfare state Britain and which made the stately home possible is back.
Confirmation of that came recently from Oxfam which published research that showed that the richest five families had more wealth that the poorest twenty per cent of Britain’s population, or some 12.6 million people.
The richest of the five, with more wealth than most people can dream of, is the Duke of Westminster. Here below you can read how much he has and where he gets his wealth, which derives mostly from property in central London and the ritziest parts of the West End.
The current Duke of Westminster, the sixth, lives permanently in London but his father, the fifth Duke, lived mostly in Co Fermanagh in a house called Ely Lodge on an island on Lough Erne, commuting to London when he needed to take care of estate matters.
He was very active in Unionist politics and for many years was the Westminster MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone (although he didn’t live long enough to see his seat captured by Bobby Sands, one wonders what would have gone through his mind if he had).
Below are two letters the sixth Duke wrote to prime minister Ted Heath around the time of the June/July 1972 IRA ceasefire and unearthed recently from the National Archive at Kew. It would be difficult to find a more revealing insight into the mind of a certain Anglo-Irish type at the height of the Troubles, in this case expressing frustration and anger over the inability to defeat the IRA.
We reproduce them here without comment, since that would be superfluous, except to note that in the second letter to Heath he proposes something very similar to Operation Motorman and mentions that “two Generals” (unnamed alas) he had spoken to recently were of a similar mind. By the end of the month something very like the military operation he suggested was put in place.