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Two guys who sell cornflakes hardly villains of gentrification

By Grace Dent

Published 30/09/2015

Property row: the Clooneys
Property row: the Clooneys

Last weekend, in dark comedic scenes of misplaced ire, an anarchist mob attacked a London cafe which sells expensive Coco Pops. The protesters had initially converged upon Shoreditch to protest about the pesky super-rich. "Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers," ran their list of offenders, "Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs."

In a fit of property-is-theft pique, a small independently-run cafe, owned by two working-class brothers from Belfast, was vandalised. That's the problem with anarchy. All that rejection of order leads to some utterly misplaced square-ups. And that's a shame, because at the root of this struggle is a bugbear that almost all of us can empathise: the super-rich doing whatever they please.

Elsewhere, in leafy, genteel resolutely non-anarchist Berkshire, a very different clique of people - George and Amal Clooney's neighbours - staged their own protest against the mega-wealthy property owners blighting their lives with their gargantuan expansion plans. The Clooneys' neighbours have described the situation as "chaos" and have complained the roads are so busy they think twice of leaving their house to walk the dogs.

And while George and Amal's Berkshire neighbours grumbled, the celebrity couple were in California eating sushi. Because one of the key reasons the mega-rich love big building projects is they'll probably be in a different time zone for all the grunt-work.

One legal requirement I'd love to see for people like the Clooneys is that they would be forced to live on-site for their entire ambitious mega-build. I want them to experience the full visceral splendour of a cement mixer in full churn and B-roads blocked by trucks.

In the cities, if you're determined to be a wealthy Womble with your own underground and overground den, then you, my friend, should live through every second of earache and anxiety that your neighbours, the little old lady, and the shiftworkers do.

And if you want an indoor subterranean swimming pool, I want you living in a caravan nine metres away for the entire digging of this hole.

Essentially, I want to see Amal Clooney living in a drafty two-berth with a blocked loo, woken every morning by workmen whistling. (This may be for reasons of jealousy rather than justice).

Of course, the challenge for any political figures hoping to halt the carte-blanche of the super-rich is to convince both cereal-phobic anarchists and the Berkshire anti-Clooney clan that they actually have something in common.

This isn't easy; they're prone to mutual loathing, even if both factions have strong passionate views about oligarchs, sheiks, scumbag developers and home-grown toffs smashing up communities, raising rents and building fourth homes they never visit.

When the people of Berkshire moan about their leafy lives being spoiled by the super-rich, they'll be called prissy and mollycoddled. I've watched many home-owning friends try to complain about property developers digging loudly for months, with their plan being to sell for profit, only to be informed theirs is a 'First World Problem' - the ultimate insult. If they mentioned Saudis and Russians, then they'll probably be labelled racist, too.

Meanwhile, the anarchists' problem is they're so furious about the lack of affordable houses, rising rents and communities ruined by profiteering that they can't work out who to shout at.

The last people responsible for billionaires altering the face of Britain are two young men who had an idea to sell strange combinations of cereal to passing tourist trade. Bullying people like this - because they don't have the same amount of wealth, legal muscle and expensive security to prevent you like, say, the Royal Bank of Scotland HQ - is as cold and cruel as a mean-eyed oligarch with a compulsory purchase order.

There are times when, whether you want to accept it or not, we're all in this together.

Belfast Telegraph

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