WHEN Labour left power in 1979, many of the party’s grandees and politicians accepted invitations to have lunch with me and a coterie of City bankers. Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Peter Shore and Eric Heffer numbered among those who agreed to some gentle hospitality, providing an opportunity for all parties to exchange views and ideas of mutual interest in convivial surroundings.
In the previous decade, the UK had suffered inflation flirting with 28 per cent and the vagaries of multiple strikes. In 1976, the UK temporarily surrendered control of its finances to the IMF. Some of the mismanagement was down to serious financial incompetence by the 1970-74 Conservative government. So these Labour-City luncheons were always lively and incisive, with deference and courtesy in plentiful supply.
Perhaps it is my age, or the fact that my political persuasion is not quite in sync with Labour – or for that matter the Liberal Democrats – but I cannot even get an answer from the likes of Labour’s Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna, and Chris Leslie, or Ed Davey and Steve Webb from the Lib Dems, to come and break bread with us. Even several chase-up phone calls have failed to get a personal response. I did receive a standard printed effort from an adviser to Umunna, saying that in his capacity as shadow business secretary he was flat to the boards. I imagine a hundred of those stereotyped notices go out every week.
Labour would not be the City’s first choice to form the next administration. However, whether those working within the portals of finance like it or not, Labour could well form a government next year, or at least a coalition with that party of chameleons affectionately known as the Lib Dems. The economy is on a roll, but there are indications that the growth rate in the run up to the election may not be so robust, with wage growth remaining dangerously stagnant.
It is in the interests of both Labour and the City to build a working relationship. Balls and Umunna will understand that financial services are still a huge contributor to the Exchequer, despite the banking sector being under extreme duress and likely to remain so through a very uncomfortable litigious cycle. Labour, please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. However fearful the City may be at the prospect of an antagonistic government, Labour will control the purse strings. Therefore it is essential that meaningful conversations on working together should take place, whether they be in the ivory towers or at the coal face.
Forget party politics, the City would welcome an ongoing dialogue with Labour with open arms. Umunna knows this territory culturally from his previous life as a successful corporate lawyer, working with investment bankers and their contracts. Acting City A.M. editor David Hellier valiantly tried to mediate a lunch with Umunna for clients, colleagues and me. The request was sadly not taken up.
I beg Labour’s Treasury front bench to debate their policies with every section of society, not just their loyal supporters. Here in the City, we encourage civilised argument.