England’s old boys’ club has evolved into ‘the network’, made up of high rollers and city slicks

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Old boys club. We don’t hear about it as much as we used to, do we? The phrase seems a bit dusty, a bit of a throwback. Harrovians, Etonians, Wykehamists and other privately educated politicians could make up 80% of Britain’s prime ministers so far; but mostly they sit in silence in parliament with other people who didn’t go to fee-paying schools, who aren’t white men – and who not only didn’t go to Bridgetown, but who don’t have a university education at all be.

And yet here we are, engaging in the incisive discussion of a small group of people connected at the top. The last few weeks of Conservative scandals are proof that this network is still alive and well. What these scandals also show is an evolution in the character of the network – high finance and marketing are emerging as a fast way for new members into the ranks of this particular political elite.

Let us solve the web of connections between the City, the government and its friends. BBC chairman Richard Sharp is facing two separate investigations amid allegations he helped former prime minister Boris Johnson secure a loan of up to £800,000, weeks before Johnson recommended him for the BBC job. Our current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, worked in hedge funds and is a Goldman Sachs alumnus. Sharp was, many years ago, Sunak’s boss at Goldman Sachs, and years later, Sunak’s economic adviser during the pandemic. Sunak, as chancellor, was building on a long tradition of movement between the two worlds of politics and finance. Sajid Javid made his fortune at Deutsche Bank and had a second job at JP Morgan as an MP. George Osborne took a job with BlackRock, and more recently with the investment bank Robey Warshaw.

There are other ways to and from the middle of making millions that you can claim to be “careless” about how much you owe in tax. Take Nadhim Zahawi, who was sacked as chairman of the Conservative party for breaking the ministerial code because an HMRC investigation failed to confirm his tax affairs. Zahawi makes much of his infamous profile and journey into British elite politics as an immigrant who didn’t speak English until he was 11. He even praised himself in his own letter responding to his sack. His forthcoming memoir (if it ever sees the light of day) will be titled A Boy from Baghdad: My Journey from Waziriyah to Westminster. But his rise has more to do with what the Tory party thinks he does than what he does as a politician. His wealth and dynamic arrangement for oil companies, and finance companies such as David Cameron’s Greensill, earned him status as a well-connected deal-maker and risk-taker in a party that values ​​high-wire entrepreneurship, rather than raising concerns about obscurity. lines between his political duties and the empire of big business.

Capital from trade and banking is also protected by those with cultural capital in billionaire-owned parts of the press. Sunak’s support team on the way to No. 10 were a small group of private and Oxbridge media and communications specialists; the second generation who are walking the very satisfying, profile-inspiring path from the media to politics plowed by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. It is said that James Forsyth (Sunak was the best man at his wedding) went from praising Sunak highly in his Spectator column to becoming Sunak’s political secretary. Forsyth’s wife, Allegra Stratton, was Sunak’s director of strategic communications at the Treasury, then No 10 press secretary. After a brief hiatus after falling on her sword for mocking social distancing laws, she’s now back at Bloomberg.

The shared political, personal and financial interests of this network are the glue that binds them, turning them into a kind of family, one whose members joke with each other. The outside world fades into a distant hostile plane, where the rules apply differently. The faces of the public the politicians are meant to serve seem immaterial, but their friends and peers are obvious, sharpened by common experiences, memories and social interactions. Democracy doesn’t “die in the dark”, it dies at dinner.

The values ​​created by these close ties – other than money – inevitably feed into policy. As prime minister, to take one recent example, Sunak is rolling back post-financial crisis regulations to make room for more City activity after Brexit, a potentially destabilizing move that has been warned by the governor of the Bank of England against him. Sunak will risk dismantling vital industry protections to find ways for financiers to make more money, but will not look at how that money could be more usefully taxed, through a range of wealth taxes that would could raise almost £40bn for public services. So, when nurses and other essential workers are reduced to a strike for a small salary increase, they are told the money is not there. It does, but it’s out of bounds. Britain, as the Financial Times sums it up, is a poor society with some very rich people. I would argue that Britain is a poor society as it is run for the benefit of the very rich.

What distinguishes this from oligarchy? About 200 years ago, in The Black Book: An Exposition of Abuses in Church and State, John Wade wrote that “Government was a corporation, and had the same interests and the same principles of operation as monopolies. ” This summary would not be an entirely inaccurate description of the modern Tory government. It is now a corporation at the heart of a large lattice of interests. The situation may not appear to be exactly what Wade referred to, consisting of highly paid sinecures of the nobility in the 1800s; but he is finding new, more slippery ways to dole out favors and jobs.

“He was supported by other corporations,” wrote Wade, “the church was one, agriculture and another; the burghs in the third, the East India Company a fourth, and the Bank of England a fifth: all these, and interests like these, were the fortress and outworks of his strength, and their first object was to avoid investigation . .”

Powerbroking in Britain has passed from the hands of this old aristocratic and colonial trading class to the players of international finance. This is the web, not the old boys’ club: more accessible, less colorful, more colorful, with women in the fold, but just as steely and determined in its purpose to keep its power, take care of its own investigation and shun.

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