Have you ever turned up at a place and realised you shouldn’t be there – but stayed anyway just to see what it was like?
That’s what happened to me yesterday. I went to an event about the “Future of the City” in Evershed’s posh offices near St Pauls.
The event had been organised by Policy Exchange and the Law Society so it was full of policy wonks and lawyers…and bankers.
Apart from a hatful of ABI-tes, I couldn’t spot anyone with an interest in pensions so I snuggled down and listened to the great things we were up to in Brussels and New York and Singapore making sure that London remained top-dog among financial centres and a jolly good place to live.
Having been told yesterday by Lib-Dem MP for Solihull Lorely Burt (don’t say it with a lisp), that Solihull had been voted the happiest place to live in Britain, I was sceptical of some of the claims for little old London!
London is certainly a jolly good place to live if you have money, and there was a little disquiet expressed about London having 5 of the poorest boroughs in the country (mostly on the outskirts of the City itself).
People like Will Hutton and Boris Johnson’s economic adviser Dr Gerald Lyons made me feel excited to be back living and working in London. Everybody was a bit spooked by an opinion poll that suggests that the Jocks may be off after all and there was much conjecture about what this would mean for us little Englanders left hanging on the fringe of the Eurozone. Other people were frightened about the deliberations of the European Court of Justice that might bugger-up London from trading Euro-denominated derivatives and there was general concern that we kept tabs on Johnny Foreigner who was coming down the Amazon, out of the Paddy Fields and into the financial markets with alarming energy.
After about 4 hours of this stuff, we all adjourned to a bar set up by Eversheds for a few stiff ones before doing battle in the final session on “Financial Regulation”.
With tongues loosened by such libations, the final debate which didn’t wrap up till 7.30, was a Grand Guignol , delivered in polysyllabic streams of consciousness by strategists high on the fumes of their own intelligence.
For the record this was the line-up
Chair: Sam Fleming (Financial Times), Chris Allen (Barclays), Anthony Belchambers (Cross Border Regulation Forum), Mark Boleat (City of London), Hugh Savill (ABI).
I have to take my hat off to them all. Male and Pale they were but never stale! Boy could they talk and boy could they fight!
These bankers are schizzo. They have had to wear a public and private face so long that they have developed split personalities.
One face is their City face, where they assume their mantles of masters of the universe, controlling the flows of capital around the globe and ensuring that the politicians understand the implications of their banking decisions.
The other is the public face, where the public moan about being ripped off by PPI, Credit Derivatives and Libor, where financial advice is substituted for “sales target practice” and the consumer is commoditised into “banking hall foot-fall”.
Me and a bloke sitting a couple of rows back tried to point out that what they’d been banging on about for 60 minutes would not play too well to the consumers, I felt like Swampy and the rows of suits that surrounded us seemed to turn into police uniforms. Would we be kettled out of Eversheds?
But no! Once we’d got our initial kicking, sense appeared. One chap more or less admitted to me that “for big-boy bankers to be masters of the universe, little-boy bankers are going to have to stop misbehaving and spend a little less time on the naughty step”.
As I walked out into a late summer City evening, I cogitated on the two cities. The City of London is controlled by the likes of Mark Boleat, they make the money that makes it the most prosperous square-mile in the world. But there is the bigger City we call London but is really a massive conurbation of diverse ethnicities, living standards, religious and cultural beliefs.
London cannot do without the City of London but the City of London needs the great sprawling metropolis that surrounds it – on which it feeds and onto which it defecates its largesse.
It really is a tale of two Cities and I’m glad I’m a part of both.