If you aren’t a liberal when you are young, the adage has it, you have no heart and if you aren’t a conservative in middle age then you have no brains.
I entered the City in 1989 as a socialist firebrand but approach the general election on June 8 with politics so far to the right Goldfinger would blush. Does this imply I’m a great lover with a high IQ?
I know everyone makes that familiar lifetime shuffle from left to right on the political spectrum but mine is so extreme I do not even recognise and would certainly not acknowledge that younger self who strode onto the late '80s Salomon Brothers trading floor.
That place at that time was perhaps the apotheosis of capitalism. But I arrived from university with the declared intention of bringing down the whole edifice of laissez-faire economics from the inside, as soon as I’d paid off my student overdraft. Even then there was a element of pragmatism.
Yes, I planned to cleanse the temple of its money lenders and then, with a bank balance in credit for the first time in my life (and the history of my family, I suspect), go off and do something worthwhile like teaching romantic poetry to failing, inner city comprehensive schoolchildren.
I was seduced by my first bonus, of course, and developed a fondness for them like a shark which has tasted human blood. Each year, I put back my supposed agent provocateur activities and my subversion of the City for another 12 months and one more bonus to put just a little more daylight between me and the gutter before I opened the rogue trader playbook.
When the first election of my time in the City came around in 1992 I was still very much swinging to the left. I had said as much in a few conversations on the desk when I was still testing my roadworthiness in conversation among traders.
“I would keep quiet about that if I were you,” was the typical response.
Also, I had been at college with Neil Kinnock’s son, in the same drinking club no less, and my mates and I all harboured fantasies of a legendary booze up at Chequers in the event of a Labour victory.
I was devastated to come in the following morning, note John Major’s surprise victory and witness the atmosphere on the trading floor. Strangers were high fiving, people patting each other on the back and the markets went whoosh. It was like a John Lewis ad for Christmas. I feigned food poisoning and went home to sulk with a copy of Socialist Worker.
New Labour, new danger
By the time of the 1997 election, I had loosened my Trotskyite shackles sufficiently to have a spread betting account with one of the big City bookies and decided to hedge myself emotionally against another surprise Tory win by shorting Labour seats. This way I figured, I would be up £5,000 even if Tony Blair fell short. He won a landslide and I lost £5,000 and I think it was at this moment I finally understood the principle of self-interest which governs financial markets and is at the heart of conservatism.
I would only admit it to myself but I would have preferred the £5,000 than a glorious victory for (what was still just about) the left. We all turn Tory when we have something to be Tory about.
Despite its traditional values, the City was quite contented through the entirety of the Blairite government because, as its ophidian philosopher-king Peter Mandelson asserted, New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”
I could reconcile a career in investment banking (it felt like a career then) with support for a Labour government which let me off the hook, morally speaking. I was helped in that by my inability to get filthy rich when everyone else was. The noughties were pretty much a rising bull market for everyone in the Square Mile and this somehow became confused with a perception of the Labour party’s economic competence.
It was only as the global financial crisis unfolded, Gordon Brown’s (to whom Blair had handed what was by then a poisoned chalice of a prime ministership) halo slipped and his "government of all the talents" demonstrated its outstanding ones were for overspending and economic mismanagement that disenchantment set in among the City rank and file.
For the duration of the Labour administration, it was felt that 40% was the appropriate top rate of tax but a fortnight before Brown dissolved parliament to go to the country, Labour raised it to 50% as part of a scorched earth policy. It was like throwing a dead camel down the well to poison the waters for whoever might arrive there next. This earned the eternal enmity of those who either pay it or aspire to it. Given the way my career is progressing I’m in no danger of falling into that band but I resent it nonetheless when I fantasise about mythical bonuses and share option payouts.
Come 2015 and my political tergiversation was complete. Not only did I throw things at the telly and launch spittle-flecked Philippics from the sofa when Brown's successor as Labour leader Ed Miliband appeared but I lay in wait behind my door for Labour Party canvassers and ambushed them as they came down the garden path. Listening in the car to yet another disingenuous radio interview with John Humphreys on Radio 4, the pretender to the premiership had me wanting to plough into the central reservation at 100mph at the prospect of his actually winning the election.
Having grown up in a hovel on the mean and beaten streets of Liverpool, here I am losing sleep over mansion tax. I voted for Zac Goldsmith who is a trustafarian with a plummy accent from a privileged background, for heaven’s sake. Thirty years ago, I would have been trying to thump him on the day of the polls.
I never quite worked out what Miliband’s “responsible capitalism” was and it seems like the electorate didn’t either, but the City smelt a rat and despised him for this and almost every other policy. Miliband was clearly a moron but a special contempt was retained for his colleague Ed Balls because his refusal to acknowledge policy mistakes in the run-up to the financial crisis was born of cynicism, not stupidity.
Television audiences may be simple enough to forget but it’s going to take more than a few capers on Strictly Come Dancing for the City to forgive Balls for his past sins.
To this day, the loudest cheer I have ever heard on a City trading floor (and this includes the time England beat Argentina in the 2002 World Cup and the time that strip-o-gram disrobed fully on the Salomon trading floor in 1990) was the huge roar that went up when Balls lost his seat in the 2015 election. It was a “Where were you for Ed Balls?” moment.
Even I, someone who makes a religion out of not joining in, fist-pumped for that one.
While 2015 was on a knife-edge until the results started coming in, the City is feeling “intensely relaxed” about this snap election and probably looking forward to the unintentional comedy provided by current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy. This election is a bit like watching Everton on Match of the Day if you’ve already seen the score and know the result — you can kick back and relax, knowing the Blues are going to win.
I would have considered this apostasy in 1989. Now, I think, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.