Houses of the super-rich: ripe for squatting?

Sneaking in through an open Belgravia garden flat window.

It's not often that I say this, but the Guardian got it right. In an editorial on the criminalisation of squatting, it said that squatting is a symptom of our much larger housing crisis: builders own land but won't put up new houses because people can't get mortgages to buy them with, bringing us back - as always - to the financial crisis.

The financial crisis has had another interesting effect on the housing crisis, this time from the other end. As the FT today reports, there has never been higher demand for London luxury property: foreign money - especially of late from the PIGS - is sloshing its way into London because property here keeps its value and your title is generally safe. It's then quite common for owners to spend only a fortnight or a month in their London houses. Prime and super-prime London continue to accelerate, driving up local prices with their ripples.

And where might these two trends meet? In squatting, perhaps. The lack of supply at the bottom meets the supply of expensive empty houses at the top and attractive opportunities for squatting - sneaking in through an open Belgravia garden flat window, say - might arise. This rarely happens, however: the ripest cherries are never bitten. The super-wealthy, according to Charlie Ellingworth of property finders Property Vision, may not live in their houses much but they keep them well-protected: "Most have housekeepers or house sitters or burglar alarms… people who come every day to check it, flush the loos, turn the heating on." So squatting doesn't affect the largely-empty houses of the very wealthy but buildings abandoned for dereliction, hardly the sort of places you'd want to raise a family.

Our entire housing system is in trouble and shows no signs of being righted. Squatting is the desperate response, not the problem.

Josh Spero is the editor of Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

Josh Spero is the editor of Spear's magazine.

Getty Images.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.