A very good blog by Alex Proud in the Telegraph about how the rich are turning London into a boring Euroclone city. He’s absolutely right. We live in what is now a very, very posh part of Kensington – and broadly always has been – but back when we moved here in 1994, the bottom had fallen out of the property market and it was still possible for ordinary ‘professional’, for want of a better word, people to buy property at reasonable prices. It was a mixed neighbourhood back then: there were people whose families had lived around here for generations, there were creative people, there were young entrepreneur-y types and there were middle-class professionals, cheek by jowl with a relatively small number of the super rich. Our next door neighbour on one side when we first moved in was a film cameraman, and on the other was a consultant oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
That has largely changed. It’s exactly twenty years since we bought our house and the fact of the matter is that the great majority of our neighbours are now European and/or American bankers or financiers of one sort or another. Most of them seem to be quite nice but they’ve changed the community. The streets are full of huge 4-wheel drives, Lamborghinis and bullet-headed bodyguards. You’re more likely to hear French or Russian being spoken than English. I’m told that people like us – the longer term British who still live here – are referred to as ‘Klingons’.
Of course, it’s futile to rail against change; it’s going to happen no matter what I want and at least the process isn’t complete yet. There are enough of us poor Klingons to add some variety and get the rich colonists involved in community life.
What will finally kill London though, is the mansion tax: if a Labour-Lib Dem coalition ever gets into power, at any rate. On the site of the old St Mary Abbots Hospital in Marloes Road is a gated community called ‘Kensington Village’. Us proles are allowed to walk through it during the hours of daylight and, whilst it isn’t particularly hideous to look at, the atmosphere there is like London in ’28 Days Later’ or some other zombie apocalypse film. You never see the inhabitants: just a few black and Fillipino domestic workers and the occasional Ocado van delivering food. It’s so deserted you half expect to see tumbleweed blowing through the streets.
The mansion tax will essentially make central London’s residential areas into a state-imposed ghetto for the super rich. It won’t take long before these people get together to hire their own security guards to ‘supplement’ the police (if you think that’s unlikely, think again – it’s been happening round us since 2001, paid for by some of the area’s better off inhabitants), and I suspect it won’t be long after that that they start petitioning local authorities to make their streets ‘private’ so that they can control access.
I recently watched the film ‘Elysium’ with one of my sons. It’s a kinda, sorta update on Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis‘ in which the rich and powerful have left the surface of the earth to live in an orbital space station called Elysium where they can enjoy perfect health, Jodie Foster talking with a silly accent, nice gardens and power suits with shoulder-pads. Ordinary working people, in this case primarily Alice Braga and Matt Damon (so not all that ordinary), have to stay on the heavily polluted surface of the earth doing dirty, dangerous jobs which eventually involve them being irradiated. Cutting to the chase, my son pointed out that we live in Elysium and wasn’t that nice? We do, but if a mansion tax is brought in, it’ll be tough staying here.
The reason of course is that a ‘mansion tax’ actually taxes a notional sum of money. The house we bought twenty years ago with a chunky but not unmanageable mortgage has supposedly increased in price at least tenfold almost entirely because of its location. Well that’s nice, but we can’t realise any of that value because we live in it. If Ed Milliband or Ed Balls, with the connivance of Nick ‘The Weasel’ Clegg and/or Vince Cable, the well-known ballroom dancer, decides to hit us for – say – £20K a year, we’d have to find it from our already taxed income; or just move out and either rent the house to some rich people, or sell it to them. Either way, we’d be gone, as would many others.
So if you really want to kill central London as a vibrant, interesting place to live, vote Labour and Lib Dem, because they’ll ban ordinary people from living there.