This post is by Guy Shrubsole. Last updated 7th February 2020.
My book Who Owns England? was published in hardback in May 2019, and is coming out in paperback in late March 2020 (if you’ve not got a copy yet, you can order one from the publisher here:)). Here’s a round-up of links to the reviews and coverage it’s generated to date. First, though, please check out my Twitter thread of acknowledgements to the many awesome people upon whose time, inspiration and love the book has drawn.
- Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population – the Guardian do a front-page splash with one of the book’s central findings, in a piece by Rob Evans.
- The New York Times picks up the story…
- … as does the Daily Mail.
- The story is tweeted by Jeremy Corbyn, George Monbiot, Caroline Lucas, the housing charity Shelter, and David Lammy (who calls for a land value tax in response), amongst many others.
- The backlash begins: the Spectator’s Ross Clark argues that ‘Fretting over “land inequality” is a waste of time’, whilst inadvertently making a good case for extending Right to Roam.
- But academic Brett Christophers counters in the New Statesman that ‘questions of land ownership are entering the political mainstream’ and highlights how privatisation has seen the British state flog off vast acreages of land since the 1970s (a subject he’s researched at length in his book The New Enclosure).
- And Peter Hetherington calls for inheritance tax reform to combat inequality of land ownership in a blog for the Guardian.
- The Guardian’s Long Read runs an extract from chapter 7 of the book about corporate land ownership, featuring the large and mysterious Peel Holdings.
- The first review of Who Owns England?, by Edward Lucas in The Times (£), calls it a ‘vivid account’ and agrees that it is ‘scandalously hard to find out the answer to our ‘oldest, darkest, best-kept secret”‘ (though he thinks the book should talk more about land value tax: I do, amongst the recommendations).
- The Guardian Letters page is full of responses from readers outraged about the inequality of land ownership in England and the secrecy of information surrounding it. Many offer great proposals for land reform – from letting councils buy land cheaply again in order to build affordable housing, to giving greater rights to tenant farmers, to pressuring landowners to steward the environment better.
- But some aren’t so impressed: Tory councillor Simon Cooke argues on ConservativeHome that ‘big business doesn’t own England after all’ (despite, er, the figures showing they own a staggering 18% of the country). Treasury Minister and rabid free-marketeer Liz Truss shares his critique approvingly, and tries to divert blame for the housing crisis from landowners onto the planning system.
- Yet others on the centre-right respond differently: CapX, the free-marketeers’ favourite online opinion site, argues that the findings of Who Owns England? point to the need for a land value tax.
- Andrew Pendleton of the New Economics Foundation writes in Tribune magazine about the need for radical land reform, citing the book’s findings and calling for a full Right to Roam.
- The Telegraph Property section runs a feature piece about Who Owns England?.
- Max Hastings reviews the book for the Sunday Times (£), calling it ‘angry – and half-right’. He agrees that it is ‘inherently wrong’ that who owns land should be a secret, agrees that farm subsidies should be reformed, agrees that offshore ownership is ‘repugnant’, and says there ‘is a good case for giving councils wider powers, such as the author urges, to acquire land cheaply for housing.’ But apparently the book is too angry about such outrages, or something.
- My favourite review has to be Owen Paterson’s one-star review of the book for the Sunday Telegraph. If this hatchet job of a piece by the climate-denying, landowner-defending, grouse-moor-loving, disgraced former Environment Secretary OPatz doesn’t persuade you to read the book, nothing will. Of course, the fact that Paterson’s in-law and sometime speechwriter Viscount Matt Ridley gets criticised in the book can have nothing to do with his splenetic tizzy.
- Laurie Macfarlane writes for OpenDemocracy on the ‘new ownership agenda’, citing Who Owns England? and the launch that week of new think tank Common Wealth.
- Mark Avery reviews Who Owns England? on his blog, and is intrigued by how many of the land-owning MPs who feature in the book were also opposed to his campaign to ban driven grouse shooting.
- Giles Fraser writes for Unherd on the book’s revelations about Church landownership, is shocked at how much glebe land has been sold off, and agrees that the Church Commissioners have put financial returns above social responsibility in the way they administer their 105,000-acre estate.
- Tim Adams reviews Who Owns England? for The Observer (where it’s their book of the week), calling it ‘compelling’, and concluding: ‘If we really want to “take back control” we might start by thinking about the ways we share out the nation’s primary sovereign resource, “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.
- More letters to the Guardian in response, with this nice one calling for a rejuvenation of everyone’s statutory right to an allotment. And George Monbiot cites the book in his column discussing the rural landed elite.
- Melissa Harrison reviews the book for the New Statesman, calling it ‘illuminating and well-argued’ and concluding that ‘it’s time for a revolution in the way we manage this green and pleasant land.’
- PD Smith reviews the book for The Guardian Review, calling it a ‘passionately argued polemic’ and arguing that ‘land should be a common treasury for all’.
- The June edition of Countryfile Magazine carries a feature on Who Owns England, penned by yours truly. BBC Countryfile also examined land ownership and agricultural tax breaks on 2nd June, featuring me wandering around a patch of unregistered land in West Berkshire, looking lost. (The mere prospect of the broadcast appeared to make Jeremy Clarkson worried; he is, after all, getting £100k in farm subsidies annually for his Oxfordshire farm.)
- Ian Jack gives the book a mention in the London Review of Books, and Charlie Pye-Smith reviews it for the Literary Review.
- Who Owns England? gets a shout-out on Ed Miliband & Geoff Lloyd’s podcast Reasons to be Cheerful – episode 90, Land Reform. It’s a great programme, featuring interviews with Dr Beth Stratford and George Monbiot about the new Land For The Many report to the Labour Party, to which I was a contributing author along with Tom Kenny, Anna Powell-Smith, Robin Grey and Laurie Macfarlane.
- I spoke to Anushka Asthana about the book and the need for land reform on the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, 5th July 2019.
- Nick Groom reviews Who Owns England? for the Times Literary Supplement, 23rd July, calling it ‘sobering’ with a ‘reassuringly constructive conclusion… after what amounts to a damning verdict on the abuses of wealth and property’.
- I spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today about who owns England on 2nd Sept.
- Book events so far have included a workshop hosted by the New Economics Foundation, a packed talk at Ebenezer Presents in Somerset; another packed talk in Conway Hall (audio here); Oxford 13th June; Bridport 26th June; Wild In The City 16th August; Byline Festival 25th August; Architecture of Emergency, Barbican 19th Sept; Young Fabians discussion event 7th Oct; Bristol Festival of Ideas 16th Oct; Pembroke College Politics Society, Cambridge 25th Oct; Harvest Film Festival 9th Nov; Bristol rewilding talk 21st Jan 2020; Words by the Water festival, Keswick, 7th March 2020.
- Forthcoming events:
- ‘1066 and all that land’ talk, Hastings, 23rd March – POSTPONED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS
- Festival of Debate, Doncaster, 24th April – POSTPONED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS
- ‘This land is not our land’ talk, part of Bath Uni IPR Public Lecture series, 5th May (please note change of date) – – POSTPONED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS
- More to be announced/ rescheduled once circumstances change with coronavirus…
3 thoughts on “Who Owns England?, the book: a round-up of reviews & coverage”
1) Considering land as a contributor to influence and control, one wonders what percentage of wealth as a whole resides in land?
2)If land ownership in society as a whole, hasn’t changed its shape much since Norman times, despite, you know, all that history between then and now, what would likely change it now?
3) Can you point to comparable studies in other areas — Middle and Far east,, the Americas, Russia, Africa, etc.?
Not read the book yet, but have looked at the ‘Land for the Many’ report.
In the absence of a Labour government what can we do over the next few years to raise awareness of the need for reform of land ownership and taxation to address the issues of climate change and inequality. Maybe petitions to challenge Boris Johnson to follow in the footsteps of his hero Winston Churchill?