The reason new money floods to London isn’t necessarily sentimental but pragmatic: London sells itself to the 21st century as, in the words of English satirical magazine Private Eye, “the money laundering capital of the world.” Nowhere is this more striking than in the property market.
“London has become a safe haven for corrupt capital from around the world,” says a new report by Transparency International, “facilitated by the laws which allow UK property to be owned by secret off-shore companies.” In this new order the “proper” English are increasingly becoming the service class. The new English hero of the age is the elite estate agent (they prefer to be known as “property brokers”). You find them in the lobbies of the Park Lane hotels and at the after-parties of art auctions, looking to snag a client and sell off a bit more of London.
***But how do the new elite see the English?
At brunch with the wife of a Russian minigarch at a Mayfair club, I noticed one smart young Englishman after another come up to our table to offer his services as a wine merchant, landscape gardener or interior designer. She leaned over to me: “You have to watch the English like a hawk when they come do any work — they’re lazy and always try to rip you off.” It was just the way the English had once talked of their colonial subjects and foreign “help.”
So will this be the future of London? A globalized elite serviced by a class of English butlers, estate agents and money launderers? It’s hard not to notice the historical irony — the nation that once ruled over half the world reduced to being, if not colonized, then at least relegated to second class in the postcodes of its own privilege.
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