Real Life Monopoly

When we were children around about the time that we were tiring of Ludo and Snakes and Ladders we discovered the board game Monopoly. I can’t remember the details or the rules – something about cards that said such things as “Pass Go, collect £200”, “Go to jail”, “Get out of jail”. In real life it is usually found that going to jail meant the only people to collect money were the lawyers, but whatever the rules were it was good fun building hotels in Park Lane while your opponent was stuck in a hovel in the East End somewhere or off to jail and not collecting £200.

When we grew up of course we quickly learned that the Grosvenor Hotel and a mansion in Park Lane were not for “the likes of us”. Our fate was to be members of the working class who had to work for a wage or a salary and lead an anxious life between weekly or monthly pay cheques. However there are people who wheel and deal in such properties and a recent newspaper article gave some details of these deals.

Two separate properties in Park Lane valued at £5m-£6m, one in Grosvenor Street for £10m and one in Reeves Mews at £25m. The astonishing thing about these desirable residences is that they have been vacant for between five and ten years. According to the empty properties officer for Westminster council Paul Palmer the owners intend to keep them empty for the present.

“There are an estimated 1m empty homes in the UK, and as empty properties officer for Westminster council, Palmer is responsible for about 3,000 of them. Every day he visits some of the ritziest addresses in the capital and does his best to get them lived in again. What makes his job unique is the staggering value of the properties on his books; some of his Mayfair mansions are worth as much as £50m, even in their dilapidated state. … The properties usually aren’t abandoned for reasons which might prompt sympathy. Palmer believes many elusive owners don’t have the slightest intention of bringing them back to life. ‘So often offshore owners have little or no interest in the property as a building it is merely an asset to be traded as they see fit,” he says adding that offshore firms are tricky to track down.’ (Guardian, 17 October)

The article points out that in some cases where property is owned by offshore companies, no UK capital gains tax is payable, and there are cases where the wheeler dealers sell a £1m property after a year for £2m and avoid the 18 percent tax. These traders do not look upon these properties as places to live but as chips in their grown-up game of Monopoly. All of this financial skulduggery goes on against a background of millions of workers living in sub-standard housing, thousands homeless and hundreds even sleeping in the streets around about these empty luxurious mansions.

Compared to the complexities of capitalism socialism is a simple social system. Houses will be built for people to live in, not counters in a horror version of the kids’ board game like we have today. At 21 Upper Grosvenor Street there is a house valued at £25m, it has been empty for more than ten years. Once we establish world socialism it will be occupied immediately by a family at presently homeless. A simple socialist solution to a problem that capitalism finds insoluble.


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