I am currently reading recently published book ‘Alpha City: How the Super-Rich Captured London’. One of the points made by author professor Rowland Atkinson is that despite the city being the ultimate paradise for the super-rich, with more ‘High Net-Worth Individuals’ per inhabitant than any other city in the world, overt lobbying is not usually necessary for re-producing this outcome.
Whether it be planning departments, civil servants or parliamentarians, it is the “deep, subterranean flows of capital, political ideology and social networks” which create an environment of greed is good throughout ruling class circles.
“Despite being invisible to the naked eye, these underlying forces drive the stellar gains of the wealthy, seduce and enroll those who come to rely on their spending, and assist the development of programmes that further exclude those on low incomes,” Atkinson finds.
However, this does not exclude excesses in a system that usually does the bidding of London’s super-rich like clock-work. One of those excesses has come out in the open in the case of Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, who appears to have been caught with his Tory fingers in the cookie jar.
Jenrick over-turned the decision of a local council and planning department to approve developer Richard Desmond’s plans for a £1 billion, 500-apartment development at Westferry Printworks, in East London. He did so the day before the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which would have forced Desmond to pay at least £40 million to the taxpayer.
Two weeks later, Desmond made a £12,000 donation to the Tory Party. When the Tower Hamlets Council sought a judicial review of the case, Jenrick immediately conceded, admitting he had acted unlawfully, and reversed the decision.
It was then revealed that Jenrick had sat next to Desmond at a Tory Party fundraising dinner shortly before he had decided to back his Westferry Printworks development. Jenrick had claimed that they were seated together “inadvertently”, and that Desmond had raised the matter but he had responded that as Minister he was “not able to discuss it”.
Yesterday, The Sunday Times quoted Desmond as saying that he had shown the Communities Secretary a video about the development at the dinner lasting “three or four minutes”. If true, it would prove Jenrick lied, and be a clear conflict of interest. Labour is bringing a debate forward in the House of Commons about the issue on Wednesday.
The Jenrick scandal highlights the reality of Tory Government: a party that will do anything to protect its super-rich benefactors. But the real scandal is that turning over the capital’s infrastructure for expensive apartment developments is par for the course in London, a city where renters on average pay over 60 per cent of their income on housing costs, and the “the top ten London boroughs by property wealth are now worth more than North Wales, Northern Ireland and the whole of Scotland put together,” according to Atkinson.
No one voted for the creation of the world’s ultimate plutocratic city, yet that is what London has become. It would not have been possible without a UK state committed to putting moneyed-interests above all else.
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