All property is theft, it has been observed, and some of the most expensive property in London, especially, appears to have been purchased with the proceeds of crime of one sort or another. Of course, not every home registered to an offshore trust belongs to a drug dealer or money launderer – many are merely legally avoiding their tax obligations, as they would see it – but enough are so financed for the Prime Minister to make a point about proposing to clean things up during a speech in faraway Singapore.
So what will be the consequence of David Cameron’s laudable campaign? The London property scene, or at least its top end, is already under threat from a number of global phenomena. Sanctions on Russia have already had an effect, while the fallout from the stock market crash in China is yet to be felt.
Speculators, some honest, of every nationality have been piling into the capital, in any case, and flats in new “prestige” developments are being bought off-plan once again, one of the sure signs of trouble brewing.
Interest rates are due to rise early next year, which won’t exactly help either. Nor will the criminals quietly selling their mansions and penthouse apartments. And what knocks property values in Mayfair, Kensington and Canary Wharf eventually feeds through to Wimbledon, Northolt and Croydon.
Thus it may be that some small measure of social justice will eventually be delivered by a housing crash. It may rob those who have chosen to stash their ill-gotten gains of an easy profit, while making life easier for first-time buyers. The surest sign of an approaching property crash is when everyone – rich and poor, foreign and local, straight and crooked – agrees that it couldn’t possibly happen, or that any “correction” will be modest. Mr Cameron is right to target the criminals.