Some corners of our national life are finding it harder to adapt to the new post-referendum reality than others.
Earlier this week I joined the cream of the British commentariat at the annual Comment Awards, celebrating the best columns and comment pieces of 2016. As you know, we have a stable of excellent columnists here at City A.M. but since I never got around to entering them into this year’s awards I sat at the back of the room without a dog in the fight. And it was fascinating.
One after another various media figures took to the stage either to present or collect an award, and almost all of them were in a state of post-referendum mourning. The height of this came when an actor appeared at the lectern to read solemnly from Jonathan Freedland’s post-referendum cry of anguish, published in The Guardian. It was delivered like a Rupert Brooke poem on remembrance Sunday. A fine piece of writing, to be sure, but the mini-performance served to highlight how wide the gulf has become between the pundits and the public. Or at least, large swathes of the public. There was little understanding on show as to the reasons why people voted to Leave, let alone any consideration of a potential upside.
Plenty of people in the City exhibited similarly shell-shocked reactions to the vote. Anthony Browne of the British Bankers’ Association let rip in The Observer last month, warning that banks were gearing up for a mass exodus and that the end was nigh. But earlier this week he appeared to have changed his tune, telling the BBA annual dinner that the City has weathered storms in the past and that now was the time to “stop looking back…to roll up our sleeves and look to the future.” Some say he was leant on by senior bankers and urged to find a more helpful tone, but whatever lies behind the change of approach, members of the media’s comment class should follow his lead. As Browne said, “the time for grieving is over.”
Brexit bonus for George Osborne
Former chancellor George Osborne looked relaxed on the backbenches this week as his successor delivered the Autumn Statement. Now we know why. Osborne bagged more than £320,000 from giving speeches in the US in the months after he was sacked as chancellor, including £80,000 for a single speech last month. He may be out of office but he certainly isn’t out of pocket. He’s not as pricey as Cameron, though, who is charging £120K for a talk.
One import we could all live without
With exports high on the political agenda post-referendum, it’s time to consider one of the most offensive imports of recent times: Black Friday. Retailers jumped on the American idea for a pre-Xmas discount day, and now the phrase invades press releases for weeks in the buildup. Yesterday a PR firm tried to tell me that Black Friday had caused a spike in private jet journeys to the UK – as if oligarchs are determined to take advantage of discount TVs at Asda. Spare me.
Labour's City man embraces the role
One doesn’t associate the Corbyn regime with black-tie dress codes and lavish City dinners. But Labour’s new shadow City minister, Jonathan Reynolds, is not your typical Corbynista. He’s popular in the Square Mile and at home in the brief. He turned a few heads at Monday night’s meeting of Labour MPs by arriving in black-tie, ahead of joining the British Bankers’ Association annual dinner at Mansion House, where he was clearly more relaxed than his boss, John McDonnell.
Get involved in the City's democracy
The new Lord Mayor, Andrew Parmley, had to dip out of a dinner earlier this week to officiate at a City by-election. Returning to his guests he apologised for having been called away to “a rare outbreak of democracy in the City.” It was a joke, of course, but one based on the idea that while the City of London Corporation may be the world’s oldest democracy, it isn’t always seen as the most open one. More should be done to encourage participation.