Amidst all the debris of the collapse of Anglo-Saxon finance capitalism, we only have one prominent politician on either side of the pond defending the spivs and speculators, and accusing their critics of indulging in “neo-socialist claptrap” – the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Why should this be?
Well, firstly Boris is has a record of defending the indefensible, like a defence lawyer who knows his client is guilty as hell. Lord knows he has done this often enough in the past, both as a Telegraph columnist and in his former role as editor of the Spectator. His stance as an apologist for the Iraq war and as a climate change sceptic are two notorious examples of this. For Boris the defence of unpopular causes against the Left is probably an intellectual game as much as anything else.
He’s also a keen supporter of the City of London Corporation, an aberration in the governance of London, which is very much a relic from the medieval age. He forgets that much of the City’s recently improved performance is down to government legislation like the Big Bang at the end of the 1980s, and to competition in the form of Canary Wharf during the 1990s, both of which challenged the City’s monopoly over finance in the heart of London.
Finally, private equity and hedge funds were major contributors to his mayoral campaign earlier this year, so Boris has some favours to return. These extend beyond the field of journalism. For example, the co-founder of the private equity firm Englefield has been appointed by Johnson to the board of the London Development Agency, a position for which he will be paid £14,000 for a minimum of three days’ work a month. Lazarus gave two donations to Johnson’s mayoral campaign, one of £10,000 last October and another of £12,500 in February. Londoners need to be completely confident that the Mayor’s appointments are being made solely on merit. If donors to the mayor’s campaign are now being rewarded with paid positions in his administration it shows his promise to end cronyism was nothing more than empty words.
Capitalism is not going to go away – globally we are probably seeing the Anglo-Saxon form being replaced by Chinese state capitalism – but should we really be so reliant on financial services, as we have been for a number of decades in London, thus putting our eggs in one basket? Indeed an opportunity has now arisen, while the taxpayer “bails out” the banks, for us to demand more investment in the real economy, like green technology and alternative energy sources; a move back to mutuality and co-operative ideals in the mortgage markets; and more accountability on the part of financial institutions to the rest of us like getting rid of tax lopeholes, if we are expected to assist when the sector is on its knees.
Boris would be much better off arguing for these things during the present crisis than defending the indefensible.