Friday 2 August 2019 12:06 am

The City is a meritocracy, but that only works if everyone’s given a go

Sajid Javid has been culture secretary, business secretary, home secretary and now chancellor. In all that time I’ve only ever heard him give one great speech.

It was, as luck would have it, at the 2015 City A.M. Awards. In Westminster and on matters of policy and politics, Javid’s delivery is invariably uninspiring – even if his own life story is uplifting and impressive.

But back in November 2015, he was speaking in the City – a place he knows well and to a room full of bankers, deal makers and investors. He spoke that night with a genuine warmth, affection and appreciation for the City – hailing it as a true meritocracy.

It wasn’t like that when he first looked for a job after graduating, and he told the room about the difficulty of getting his foot in the door of stuffy merchant banks that wanted to know which (public) school he went to.


He had to approach a US bank – Chase Manhattan – to find somewhere that didn’t care about his school tie and he revelled in the diversity of backgrounds, religions, upbringings and ethnicities that made up his new world. By the time he returned to the City in 1997, things were beginning to change and the attitude to recruitment was better still when he left to go into politics in 2009.

Today, great work is being done across the City’s sectors to widen access and broaden the teams of talent. Over the next few weeks, more than 400 students from low-income backgrounds (and from across the UK) will start their internships with the likes of JP Morgan, Clifford Chance and KPMG. This is organised each year by the Social Mobility Foundation, and it complements other programmes run directly by employers and industry groups such as the Investment Associa­tion.

At this year’s City A.M. Awards, we’ve introduced a new category to recognise the people and places doing the most to pro­mote a City career to people who may otherwise feel their back­ground precludes them. Javid should be proud of the City today, and of the way its attitudes have changed.

Newly-wedded bliss

This time last year, my wife and I were on honeymoon. We stayed at Richard Branson’s hideout in the Atlas mountains and he was there at the time.

We chatted over breakfast and by the pool and enjoyed an indulgent and luxurious holiday in a North African castle filled with – how can I put this? – really nice stuff. I thought about how much nice stuff there was (peacocks roaming around manicured gardens) when I read Branson’s claim that “stuff really does not bring happiness.”

Well, his stuff certainly brought a lot of happiness to a couple of newly­weds in July 2018.

The Virgin billionaire’s pseudo-Marxist philosophy is disappointing. He claims that real happiness comes from making the world a better place, something he undoubtedly achieves with his products and services.


But why must he feel the need to pretend that he isn’t interested in the benefits that come from this success? I admire Branson a great deal, but I don’t like being lectured on materialism by the owner of, among other things, a hedonistic private island.

London calling

Brexiters are often accused of being nostalgic, but in the week that marked the seventh anniver­sary of the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, it was the die-hard Remainers who harked back to that heady night.

Pundits and celebrities have presented it as an occasion unblemished by Brexit and Boris. They seem to forget that the London mayor at the time had thousands chanting his name at a pre-games festival.

2012 has been hailed as a cultural high-water mark, but in fact polls show UK voters to be much more positive about immigration now than they were seven years ago.

Royal activism

I preferred Prince Harry when he was getting high at Highgrove or flying attack helicopters in Afghanistan.

In time-honoured Royal tradition, he’s since turned his hand to fashionable (and commendable) topics such as conservation, mental health and veterans’ welfare. But it seems as if he’s had one too many dinner parties with Amal Clooney and Michelle Obama, and has now turned into the woke, right-on Royal that nobody asked for.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will have only two children so as not to burden our dying planet with too many people. This miserable Malthusian nonsense should be ridiculed, and we should listen instead to the likes of Mark Carney, who this week insisted that capitalism is part of the solution.

Market-led innovation combined with capital’s propensity to move away from risk and towards opportunity will ensure that businesses and market participants play their part.

This is much more exciting and effective than piously pontificating on how many kids are going to live in your country mansion.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Share