Martin Vander Weyer Martin Vander Weyer

Bury the Canaletto, now

[Getty Images]

I’m not on the guest list for the Duke of Westminster’s wedding, but I wish him luck anyway. Mind you, the young seventh duke – Hughie to his friends – hardly needs more luck than has already come his way in the form of the £10 billion Grosvenor property empire in London and elsewhere.

When the playboy second duke known as ‘Bend’Or’ died in 1953, Pimlico had to be sold to pay record death duties. But the Grosvenor family has taken a firmer grip on tax planning since then, their fortune multiplying despite the dukedom passing through three cousins to reach the father of today’s incumbent, who inherited via reportedly tax-proof trusts in 2016 and should have little to fear from a Labour regime.

In other stately drawing rooms, however, teacups are rattling. ‘Owners of some of the UK’s most valuable estates have fast-tracked the transfer of property to their heirs’ for fear of inheritance tax tightening, says the Financial Times. Though Labour says it won’t scrap IHT relief for farmland, the FT quotes a survey that found 42 per cent of landowners had no succession plan in place. Better get one quick, however louche your eldest son.

For other households, the pressing issue will be Labour’s 20 per cent VAT grab on school fees. Should you sell the Canaletto to your oligarch neighbour and phone the bursar of St Custard’s with an offer to pay all the grandchildren’s fees upfront before 4 July? Maybe the oligarch’s not so flush now his non-dom status has been abolished by Jeremy Hunt. And what chance St Custard’s itself will survive? Many lower-ranked private schools will fail as a result of the VAT impact on pupil numbers – Alton School in Hampshire being first to go, citing ‘adverse political and economic factors’.

Then again, there’s Labour’s plan to ‘make work pay’, increasing costs and red tape for employers. Should you be laying off the under-gamekeeper – or perhaps even the pastry chef? ‘What?’ another old duke (possibly of Devonshire) is supposed to have replied when given that advice by his accountant. ‘Can’t a fellah have a biscuit?’ I very much doubt that an incoming Labour government will have the vision and competence to make the NHS work better, solve the housing crisis, raise school standards and keep the economy motoring; I sincerely wish it were otherwise. But of this I’m sure: bland as Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves keep the campaign soundbites, their party’s high-tax, class-war instincts will swiftly come to the fore in power. My advice is to bury the Canaletto in the potting shed.

Rolling bandwagon

The blandness of Labour’s pro-worker-but-pro-growth, not-so-pro-net-zero presentation has persuaded 120 ‘business leaders’ to sign a letter to the Times declaring that ‘Labour has shown it has changed [and] we should now give it the chance to change the country’. It was swiftly pointed out that none of the signatories are FTSE 100 chiefs or current City heavyweights – the biggest name in the list (which briefly dropped off Labour’s website as flak flew) is the Iceland Foods founder and ex-Tory donor Sir Malcolm Walker. The motley rest range from Heathrow’s former prince of chaos John Holland-Kaye to the television chef Tom Kerridge – who as an employer in the struggling hospitality sector really ought to know better. But where’s the harm in jumping on a rolling bandwagon? If the Tories have a rival one, their last few business supporters will be hard-pressed to haul it out of the mud.

Cancelled sponsors

Corporate sponsorship of the arts is dead. Having been sacked as sponsor of the Hay Festival, the fund manager Baillie Gifford – accused by authors of investing in fossil fuels and companies involved in Israel – may withdraw support from a portfolio of other literary events. BP has ended a 27-year partnership with the British Museum; Shell is gone from the Southbank Centre; activists have disrupted performances at Sadler’s Wells supported by ‘dirty money’ from Barclays. If I were advising any FTSE chief on the allocation of marketing spend, I’d have to say: don’t bother with the arts.

You can’t justify it to shareholders in terms of measurable financial returns. You absolutely can’t be seen entertaining your friends in the royal box like in the good old days. And whatever you say about your good intentions and ethical principles, the left will always hate you while the arts community suspects you of trying to impose your bourgeois plutocratic tastes on them. So strike that sponsorship line out of your budget.

And that is, of course, a crying shame for the arts high and low, which have enjoyed 50 years of corporate backing as a substitute for increasingly scarce state subsidies – ever since the era of Arts Council chairman and Labour fixer (Lord) Arnold Goodman, who had no qualms about a wave of tobacco money that boosted the sector in the 1970s. A decade later, Goodman reported that corporate support had risen from next-to–nothing to many millions with no evidence of artistic interference: Hamlet, he noted, had not been given a happy ending. But a tragic denouement awaits too many arts projects for lack of the sponsors’ cash that has been hounded away.

Beware yellow dragon

As I reported recently, avocado supplies have been hit by South American heatwaves. Now I read that wholesale orange juice prices have risen 77 per cent in a year (and fivefold since 2020) following droughts in major growing areas. Or maybe – as in John Landis’s 1983 film Trading Places which made Eddie Murphy a star – sinister hands have been manipulating the OJ market. The clue is in reported outbreaks of incurable Huang-longbing (or ‘yellow dragon’) disease afflicting citrus crops in Florida and Brazil. Might that virus have escaped from a certain laboratory in Wuhan? Not content with cyber hacking our telecoms and cornering the global electric-vehicle market, is China out to steal the vitamin C from our breakfast?