‘No one would do that’: estate agents deny making rude gesture to Kwarteng

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It was one of the more startling claims made over the weekend, in the wake of the sacking of Kwasi Kwarteng. Someone in an estate agent in the then chancellor’s constituency reportedly made an “obscene gesture” at him through the window, in apparent disgust at the way his mini-budget had tanked the economy.

None of three estate agents on Shepperton High Street in Surrey will admit that someone in their office was responsible for the alleged gesture towards their local MP when he toured local businesses shortly before he was sacked last week.

But all of them say they are glad he was removed as chancellor on Friday after his mini-budget sent interest rates soaring, raised mortgage costs for prospective buyers and threw the housing market – and wider economy – into turmoil.

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“He obviously made a right mess of it,” Mike Bazely, the director of Bazely & Co estate agents he founded in 2006, says. “Personally, I am glad he’s out – I just don’t think he was up to it.”

Kwarteng, 47, has been MP for Spelthorne, which stretches from the perimeter of Heathrow airport in the north to the edge of Walton-on-Thames in the south, since 2010. At the last general election in 2019 he had a majority of more than 18,000.

View image in fullscreenMichael Bazely of Bazely & Co estate agents in Shepperton says Kwarteng ‘made a right mess of it’. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

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That previously safe seat is now looking precarious, with an opinion poll over the weekend suggesting that Kwarteng’s seat is now on a knife-edge, with 37% support for the Conservatives compared with 36% for Labour.

On Friday, after only 38 days, Kwarteng’s tenure as chancellor came to an abrupt halt when he was replaced by the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. On Monday Hunt scrapped virtually all the tax cuts that Kwarteng had announced only three weeks earlier in his mini-budget, soothing markets, easing pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates as aggressively and burying what remained of his predecessor’s reputation.

Days before his dash back and forth across the Atlantic last week for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund, Kwarteng’s staff had taken him on a walk about of Shepperton’s high street to meet local businesses.

The reception was far from universally popular. Crowds are said to have formed, shouting questions at Kwarteng outside a BP petrol station and then later near a popular bakery, Jamz Cafe. The tone lowered further when Kwarteng waved at people through an estate agent’s window, with an occupant in one said to have responded with a “rude gesture”, according to sources in Kwarteng’s constituency office.

While Bazely is glad that Kwarteng was on Friday replaced as chancellor by Hunt he is adamant that none of his staff were responsible for the alleged gesture.

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“I wasn’t in the office, and I can assure you no one here would do that,” Bazely says. “I wouldn’t say people are that angry; we’re just so disappointed. It was great news for the area when he was appointed chancellor but obviously it hasn’t worked out.

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Bazely’s colleague Laura Grace was in the office and says she saw Kwarteng surrounded by “a big group of security guards as people tried to ask him questions”.

The ripples from Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget have been felt across the housing market, including in this leafy Surrey suburb. Lenders withdrew about 1,000 deals in the wake of his 23 September package of unfunded tax cuts, only to return with rates several percentage points higher, adding hundreds of pounds to monthly mortgage bills and sending a deep chill through the housing market.

View image in fullscreenPolling in Kwarteng’s Shepperton constituency suggests he may not be an MP much longer. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

Bazely said inquiries from new buyers have slowed as they reassess their financial situation but those with mortgage deals agreed before interest rates rose were continuing to press ahead with purchases.

“Some people think prices are going to start falling as people can’t afford the mortgages they could before,” he says. “But Shepperton is a small place, and our problem has been there is not enough stock for buyers.”

Further up the street, at the fellow independent estate agent Curchods, Caitlin Orsman says she was unaware that Kwarteng had visited and that while rising interest rates had already hit sales “some people are still buying”.

Orsman says she does not really have an opinion on Kwarteng but she is glad that Hunt has taken charge. She adds: “You’re missing most of the opinionated people not being in the office today – I know they would say a lot more.”

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When her boss returns she is outraged to hear the allegation that anyone in the village would swear at Kwarteng. “He’s our MP, no one deserves to be treated like that. If you don’t like him don’t vote for him but there is no need for that.”

He may not be their member of parliament much longer, if polling is to be believed. An Opinium poll, using the MRP method to estimate constituency-level results, projected a 1997-style landslide for Labour, with the party winning 411 seats.

At the final estate agent office on the high street, a branch of the Haart chain, the employees say they have been told not to speak to the media. However, one employee can’t help himself : “I can’t tell you how glad I am that he has finally gone.

“It has been a disaster for the country, and a disaster for us. Interest rates are soaring, mortgages are being pulled, people aren’t going to buy houses. People are too scared.”

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