George Monbiot was writing about second homes in the Guardian the other day and the following passage caught my eye:
Two weeks ago the Sunday Times revealed that the Labour MP Barbara Follett, who owns a £2m house in her constituency (in Stevenage), a flat in Soho and homes in Antigua and Cape Town, has claimed £76,357 in Commons expenses over the past four years for her London pad.
My eyes popped out. Not at the expenses, extensive though they were, nor at the overseas possessions, superfluous though they be. Nor even at the West End flat, which would seem to render unnecessary the expenses at least. My eyes popped out at the suggestion that Mrs Follett might own a place in Stevenage worth two million pounds. Mrs Follett, or anybody. I was brought up in Stevenage: I spent my teenage years there. How can there possibly be a house in Stevenage worth two million quid?
I know the town well. Or I did when I was younger, ten years going round the cycle paths and roundabouts which form its skeleton, getting to know the place: a task both easy and difficult to accomplish. Easy, because it all looks the same, being composed of a number of large - and largely identical - estates, which earned it the nickname of Legoland. Difficult, for the same reason: when everywhere looks the same, it is hard to remember exactly where you are, except insofar as you are in Stevenage. The landscape is always familar. Like knowing you are in the desert because of the proliferation of sand. Stevenage is bigger now than it was when I was young and so there must be parts of it I do not know. But there can be no parts of it that I would not recognise, because how can something alter when it is always the same?
So where, in the name of God, might one find a house in Stevenage worth two million pounds? Most of the houses there were built as council houses after the war and were not therefore actually supposed to be worth anything. Even since their transformation into property, they're still not worth anything, not by Mrs Follett's standards. You'd have to own a dozen of them to get close to the two million mark. Perhaps she does own a dozen or so and knocked them through to make one big one. It's not as if it would damage their architectural integrity.
I don't know. House prices have reached such ridiculous levels in the UK that I've been saying for years that they might as well add on a nought or two just for a laugh. Perhaps they did.