BoJo as butler: London and the global super-rich

Prithee allow me to draw your attention to a Guardian article discussing research undertaken between UoS, York and Goldsmiths, looking into the housing market of London’s affluent “alpha territory”. The work concludes that not only are the transnational super-rich buying up the best and priciest bits of the capital at a ferocious rate, but they are being assisted and encouraged to do so by the political class:

The research, part of a series of papers studying areas collectively described as the “alpha territory”, blames the shortage of affordable housing in the capital on three factors.

First, the ruling political class is compliant towards the super-rich and distanced not only from the housing conditions of the poor but also the middle classes, who now feel displaced by the global uber-wealthy.

Second, the government’s welfare cuts have been used to make prime neighbourhoods more attractive to rich foreign investors, “as tenants and low-income households are priced out of spaces previously reserved for them by the state”.

Third, the unregulated private housing market “disadvantages those who are already struggling to survive its excesses”.

Note the emphasis on empathetic distance rather than, say, some sort of class-based malice or animus; much research around political elites reveals thoroughly decent intentions, regrettably blunted by an utter miscomprehension of the lives they seek to improve.

Our very own Rowland Atkinson took to his blog to unpack this problem a little:

We have been trying to say, both subtly and forecefully, that the UK is not a plutocracy in the sense that money is used simply to buy the voices of politicians or voters (though some would certainly make that argument!). Rather what we see is the way that the city, its economy and and politics, works for those with money. It produces fine and gauche homes (in quantity and vertically), it offers spaces to play and to buy and networks of contacts that provide seamless service to wrap the wealthy-up and make them feel at home.

Shamelessly bending the theme around to my own field of research, I think it’s pretty easy to see a similar mechanism at work with regards to infrastructure spending, which is notoriously and massively biased in the favour of London and the South East. From the vantage of a Kensington mansion, it probably really does look like the most important and useful thing we could do for British infrastructure is make it possible to get to Birmingham twenty minutes faster by train, or make sure that Kent’s golf-courses don’t dry out in summer. But in infrastructure as in housing, the prescription is a withering and withdrawal of state provision, balanced by sweetheart deals to private investors… and you don’t have to have spent even a tenth of the time I’ve spent researching infrastructure to know how that pans out for people at the bottom of the social pile: they get priced out, and their complaints are ignored.

Indeed, the results are already being felt, as the Guardian makes clear:

The researchers said London’s poor have seen their conditions “attacked in the name of austerity programmes, through welfare spending caps, bedroom taxes and state-led gentrification and clearance of the last filaments of affordable and public housing in more expensive areas”.

This had led to “several million retired, unemployed and underemployed people living on bare subsistence incomes in private rental or social housing.

“The city appears to have sold its poorer residents down the river (almost literally, as many are displaced to properties beyond the capital) while opening its arms [to the global super rich],” the researchers state. “You can argue that the rich are a tax on everybody [else] in London,” Atkinson added.

You can also argue that London is increasingly like a tax on everybody else in the country