Over the weekend, in dark comedic scenes of misplaced ire, an anarchist mob attacked a London café which sells expensive Coco Pops. The protesters had initially converged upon Shoreditch to protest about the pesky super-rich. “Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers,” ran their list of offenders, “Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs.”
In a fit of property-is-theft pique, a small independently-run café owned by two working-class brothers from Belfast was vandalised. That’s the problem with anarchy. All that rejection of order leads to some utterly misplaced square-ups.
And that’s a shame, because at the root of this struggle is a bugbear that almost all of us can empathise: the super-rich doing whatever they please. Or, namely, buying up properties, smashing them down, drilling down into basements, extending up into the sky and ruining communities with noise, traffic and dust.
Elsewhere in leafy, genteel resolutely non-anarchist Berkshire, a very different clique of people – George and Amal Clooney’s neighbours – staged their own protest against the mega-wealthy property owners blighting their lives. By protest, I mean “making candid comments to journalists”. And by mega-wealthy, I mean the sort of wealth that permits a Hollywood actor and a lawyer to purchase a £10m 17th-century ivy-covered nine-bedroom Grade II-listed house, then, rather than thinking “Blimey, our cup runneth over, look at the pretty ivy!” instead, decreeing an army of lorries, trucks and diggers to install an 18m swimming pool, a 12-seater private cinema, CCTV cameras, a pergola and a hot tub.
The Clooney’s neighbours have described the situation as “chaos” and have complained the roads are so busy they think twice of leaving their house to walk the dogs. “Putting your stamp on the place,” I think estate agents call this.
Big property purchases inevitably lead to big skips outside the front door full of perfectly good, previously-loved décor, and neighbours in deep upset. For when one is super-rich, it is untenable to live with the previous owner’s bathroom, kitchen or, for that matter, their tedious structural layout.
Why leave the earth underneath your new home untroubled, just sitting about supporting the house’s foundations, if it’s possible to dig towards the earth’s core to install a snooker room? So what if you never have time to sit in that roof turret leafing through a paperback because your main home is in Biarritz? Build it anyway! More rooms equals more happiness!
And while George and Amal’s Berkshire neighbours grumbled – some even contacting the council, which is the middle-class pseudo-anarchist slant on attacking the house with paint wearing a pig mask – the celebrity couple were in California eating sushi. Because one of the key reasons the mega-rich love big building projects is they’ll probably be in a different time zone for all the grunt-work.
One legal requirement I’d love to see for people like the Clooneys is that they would be forced to live on-site for their entire ambitious mega-build. I want them to experience the full visceral splendour of a cement mixer in full churn and B-roads blocked with very slow moving trucks. In the cities, if you’re determined to be a wealthy Womble with your own underground and overground den, then you, my friend, should live through every second of earache and anxiety that your neighbours, the little old lady, and the shiftworkers do. And if you want an indoor subterranean swimming pool, I want you living in a caravan nine metres away for the entire digging of this hole. Essentially, I want to see Amal Clooney living in a drafty two-berth with a blocked loo, woken every morning by workmen whistling along to Jason Derulo on Heart FM. (This may be for reasons of jealousy rather than justice.)
Of course, the challenge for any political figures hoping to halt the carte-blanche of the super-rich is to convince both Shoreditch cereal-phobic anarchists and the Berkshire anti-Clooney clan that they actually have something in common. This isn’t easy; they’re prone to mutual loathing, even if both factions have strong passionate views about oligarchs, sheiks, scumbag developers and home-grown toffs smashing up communities, raising rents and building fourth homes that they never visit.
When the people of Berkshire moan about their leafy lives being spoiled by the super-rich, they’ll be called prissy and molly-coddled. I’ve watched many home-owning friends try to complain about property developers digging loudly for months, with their plan being to sell for profit, only to be informed theirs is a “First World Problem” – the ultimate insult. If they mentioned Saudis and Russians, then they’ll probably be labelled racist too.
Meanwhile, the problem for the anarchists is they’re so utterly furious about the lack of affordable houses, rising rents and communities ruined by profiteering – in an unfettered, balls-out manner – that they can’t quite work out who to shout at. The last people responsible for billionaires altering the face of Britain are two young men who had an idea to sell silly combinations of cereal to passing tourist trade. Bullying people like this – because they don’t have the same amount of wealth, legal muscle and expensive security to prevent you like say, the Royal Bank of Scotland HQ – is as cold and cruel as a mean-eyed oligarch clutching a compulsory purchase order.
There are times when, whether you want to accept it or not, we’re all in this together.Reuse content