Boris Johnson set out his economic philosophy as “help the super-rich”. His personal musings in the Telegraph are one thing. But as the Mayor of London he is putting this philosophy into practice, most obviously where he clears people away to build towers of over-priced flats for investors. His housing strategy is having serious real-world consequences for the majority of Londoners who are being priced out of the capital.
The Mayor says we should lay on a feast for the elite one per cent, and then make sure all ordinary Londoners can fit under the table to gratefully receive the crumbs. He tells us we should be grateful for the tax revenues that slip through massive avoidance schemes onto the floor, grateful for the overpriced flats with insecure tenancy agreements that investors dangle under the table, and grateful for the charitable donation of scraps to the jobless who used to be guaranteed a decent meal by the state.
What we mustn’t do, in the Mayor’s way of thinking, is question whether these crumbs are worth the price of the main meal.
In Earl’s Court, the Mayor is supporting the demolition of hundreds of council homes against the wishes of the local residents who want to take over management of their estates. These will make way for homes that sell for at least ten times the local average income, far out of the reach of council tenants or even prosperous young professionals. The Earl’s Court exhibition centre – the shop front of thousands of small businesses – will be flattened and replaced with high-end retail. This is regeneration for the benefit of the one per cent; penthouses to use when they’re in London, and cramped flats to let out at extortionate rents.
In my report, Crumbs for Londoners, I describe other housing schemes that exemplify this investors-first approach. The Mayor claims this helps get homes built, and that supply is the only answer to our housing problems. But this approach won’t see enough homes built, of the right type, to stabilise prices. Instead, by encouraging more and more investors to join this property feast, and supporting other demand-boosting policies like Help to Buy, he is helping to push prices up.
The tenants’ group Let Down recently occupied one of these over-priced tower blocks in Stratford, just next to the Olympic Park. The tenants represent a growing number of ordinary Londoners who are priced out by this property feast, and who are told to blame the poor for clinging onto the remaining council housing in Hammersmith rather than blame the super-rich who are buying up two thirds of new homes built in the capital.
The Let Down tenants echo the Occupy movement, which for a brief moment reminded us all that the banks have probably cost us more through the crash, subsidies and tax avoidance than they have contributed in tax revenues. Wealth trickles up to the 1%, not the other way around.
The Mayor should talk to people in Let Down and Occupy to understand that they are angry, not jealous, and that his London is leaving them behind.
He might also ponder that those council homes he demolishes were once the salvation of downtrodden private tenants; that they were built at a time when the high taxes he decries helped to reduce income inequality and so increase social mobility; and that these policies were taking power away from the rentier rich, while he wants to put it back in their hands.
Darren Johnson represents the Green Party in the London Assembly