Will the City take any lessons from the Games?

The world of finance isn't exactly filled with role models.

With a record-breaking number of golds, London has learnt a key lesson from the Olympics: how to be proud of ambition and success - for the right reasons.

The Games have not just shone a spotlight on sport. London 2012 has made many of us ask ourselves what it is about our own professional or personal lives that we can be truly proud of.

Some say that the pressure to deliver and exceed expectations at the highest level has made our athletes rise to the occasion. We can all learn from them – and nowhere is this lesson more clearly understood than in the Square Mile, where on many desks Olympic screens stood alongside dealing screens.

Allegations of laundering money or fixing rates are just the most recent furores to obscure the City’s reputation. Add in questions over bonuses and concerns about the economic downturn, and is it surprising that some people perceive the City as selfish, self-absorbed, and arrogant? Not exactly role-model material.

Can the City draw on the feel-good factor of the Games?  There is a proper desire among financial services workers to rebuild trust and confidence in the City and what it does. And what is most striking is that some of this work – like that of our Olympians - is pioneered by a new generation. In sport it’s been a whole new parade of heroes; in the City’s case it has also often been young professionals who are keen to inspire others to think and do differently.

Clearly things are changing at all levels of the City - and the autumn will bring clearer evidence of this. But among City workers in their first or second job, one powerful driver of personal change is a new approach to charitable giving. Young bankers, accountants and lawyers are meeting at film events, bars or restaurants, and getting involved in projects and the giving money through crowd-funding pledges from as little as £100 a go – but stretching upwards to much more.

In doing so they are not only delivering social benefits to worthy organisations, they are also developing their own moral compasses – and seeing how they can achieve more than mere financial rewards.

The big change has been that while philanthropy was traditionally perceived as being for those who have retired from a successful career in the City, increasingly a new generation of charitable-givers is embedding the practice throughout their whole career.

With a new initiative, City Philanthropy – A Wealth of Opportunity, which involves the City Funding Network, the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust, and Philanthropy UK, I believe the City is reaching out to create a new climate of giving to deliver social good.

Harnessing the same spirit that has brought us together in the Games, this campaign seeks to create a real step-change in City culture. Philanthropy’s social benefits to beneficiaries are well known – but what is new is the appeal to young city workers of such a meaningful activity which they can embrace throughout their careers. Coming together in this way, young philanthropists can make a real impact – not only through a wealth transfer, but also by fostering a deeper awareness of personal responsibility among City workers.

Clearly changes in the law and its enforcement, in the leadership of banks, and in the process for incentivising effort are all either underway or on their way soon.

But inspiring the next generation in the City to involve themselves in philanthrophy is also part of the answer – and therefore to be welcomed - not just for the success of Europe’s financial hub, but also for the economic and social wellbeing of London and the UK as a whole.

If the Olympics are about anything they are about striving for excellence through effort and with a clear focus on the outcome desired. They are also, famously, about taking part - because of the effect that taking part has on the individual.

Philanthrophy – a good Greek word meaning the love of fellow man – is also about taking part. Taking our part in what it means to be fully a member of the only squad that really counts: Team Human Race.

Tower Bridge. Photograph: Getty Images

David Wootton is the Lord Mayor of the City of London

Photo: Getty
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.