If art really imitated life, no one in Eastenders could afford to live in Albert Square

The exact location of the fictitious Walford is kept deliberately vague, but on the tube map it's somewhere near Bow, where you won't find a three-bed Victorian house for less than £700,000.

Outnumbered is a cutesy semi-improvised BBC sitcom about a family with three kids. The dad (Hugh Dennis) is a teacher; the mum (Claire Skinner) is a part time PA. Exactly how much they earn is difficult to ascertain, because: (a) they're fictional and (b) it's private, but the Brockmans frequently worry about money.

I mention all this because, despite their whinging, they're almost certainly millionaires.

Look at their house. It's got three levels, it's at least four bedrooms, and best of all, it's in Chiswick, one of the few bits of London where the city genuinely looks like a Richard Curtis movie. I'm not a surveyor, and valuing a fictitious house isn’t easy, but property websites suggest you're not going to get anything even remotely comparable for less than £1.1 million. Remember that silly sub-plot in which Hugh Dennis is seriously considering taking the kids out of school to go travelling for a year? That makes a lot more sense once you realise this family is absolutely bloody loaded.

Horsing around in their million-plus home: BBC's Outnumbered sitcom

These days, those people could not afford to buy that house. Not even close. Taking a generous assessment of the household finances, their home is worth 12 times the family income. Even in 2006 no one was lending that.

It's easy, with our London-centric media, to get sucked into thinking that British house prices are in the middle of another bubble. That, though, isn’t quite true: by international standards, in fact, our housing isn’t that expensive. Research from Bank of America Merrill Lynch suggests that British homes cost an average of around four times household income. In Australia the multiple is five and a half; in Germany, it’s six.

London, though, is a different case entirely. The average selling price for a home in the capital is somewhere around the £400,000 mark, while the average household income is something like £50,000. In other words, even taking into account that Londoners earn more, their house prices are twice as expensive. Read across from this to pop culture and you get all sorts of bizarre anomalies.

Looking at property websites, you can get a fair sense of how much the homes from TV would cost you now. Do so and you’ll find the dingy Croydon flat Mark and Jez share in Peep Show is relatively affordable, at somewhere around the £175,000 mark (lucky, really, since only one of them has a job). The one from Spaced, though, is in a Victorian block in desirable Tufnell Park, placing it way out of reach at nearly half a million.

Tom and Barbara's place in The Good Life was last on the market for £570,000, but that was back in 2001 before prices started to go nuts. Since then they've risen nearly 150%, so you’d be looking at well over a million now. (Try being self sufficient after you’ve bought that.) Even the Trotters' Peckham council flat, which they almost bought under right-to-buy, would be likely to set you back £200,000 in change (it's only as cheap as it is because mortgage lenders tend not to like tower blocks). It’s an exaggeration to say that this time next year they'll be millionaires, but in the long-term it’s not exactly implausible.

Perhaps nothing highlights quite how ridiculous the market's got, though, as Eastenders. The exact location of the fictitious Walford is kept deliberately vague, but on the tube map it's somewhere near Bow, where you won't find a three-bed Victorian house for less than £700,000. Albert Square itself is based on Fassett Square, a couple of miles west in Dalston, where you're talking closer to £1 million. Think about that. The houses on show in the ultimate exercise in televised miserablism are conceivably worth a million pounds.

Ian Beale shouldn't be the only one struggling to find a safe place to sleep on Albert Square.

Very few of the people portrayed in these shows would today have the faintest hope of buying the homes that they live in. They might own them already; they couldn't buy them now. A realistic version of Eastenders would see the square’s entire population sell up and move to Essex, to be replaced by a bunch of hedge fund managers and hipsters living ten to a house; the family sitcoms of the 2020s will all be set in Northamptonshire ("North Londonshire"), and feature parents who bitch constantly about the cost of train travel and the knackering nature of a two-hour commute.

What all the means is that the real London is going to look less and less like the one we see on television. Unless something radical changes, even the drabbest bits of the city will be taken over by bourgeois tossers like me, while anywhere even vaguely pleasant will become the domain of the super–rich. I can’t help but think that’s a bad thing.

The inhabitants of Albert Square definitely wouldn't be able to afford to live there in real life. Photo: BBC/Jack Barnes

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Show Hide image

Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.