The Mayor of London, we've noted, is a man who seems a little vague on the average wage, has shown scant interest in bringing down the city's stratospheric housing costs, and seems to think that buses exist primarily to make the whole place look like a Richard Curtis movie. So it's a little uncomfortable to watch him jolly off to Brussels to fight tooth and claw for the rights of - drum roll, please - hedge funds.
This seems an odd set of people to be worried about right now. Jobs are disappearing, poverty is rising, and we're being asked to fret about the welfare of guys with millions in the bank and a history of screwing up the world? Should we man the barricades for their right to pay less tax than their cleaners as well?
Except, the more we think about it, the more we worry he might have a point.
We get a slightly smug glow every time we come across a headline like ‘London to steal Wall St crown’, or read a Frenchman describing London as the ‘most international city in the world’. In the last twenty years, London has turned from being a grey, English sort of a place into a serious candidate for the capital of the world, the kind of melting pot that makes fin de siècle New York look WASP-ish and dull.
And the single biggest factor in this transformation is the arrival of those hedge fund managers and their mates. The City provides about a tenth of London’s jobs. Other industries - lawyers, accountants, journalists et al - cluster near it in the hope that someone will let them touch the money. It’s this that’s made the city rich again. And it’s that wealth that pays for the galleries and restaurants and bars and regeneration all the things that make London actually worth living in.
If the money men up sticks and leave, they might take all this other stuff with them. London would stop being the world city we’re used to, and go back to being the drab English place familiar from repeats of Minder. Ken Livingstone realized this, and spent much of his mayoralty playing against type to protect London’s status as a place where the rich get richer.
And yet... there's still this nagging worry about what else the bankers are doing to us. They give London its culture of greed, in which people can pay top rate tax and still think they’re poor. They bid up house prices, by being willing and able to pay £300k for a shoe box in zone 2. They pushed up drink prices so much that you can pay £5 for a pint and not even blink.
There’s a contradiction here. The City wrecks our quality of life, but it also makes it worth living here. Perhaps Boris is right on this one: we may not like them, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need them.
It’d just be nice if they paid those cleaners a bit better, that’s all.
Image courtsey of harshilshah100 under a creative commons licence