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
Show Hide image

Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders no longer sounds so outlandish

Both men have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack.

Unlike many of us, Bernie Sanders never doubted Jeremy Corbyn. The week before the general election, the independent US senator from Vermont was addressing a crowd of progressive voters in Brighton during a whirlwind tour of the UK. An audience member asked him what advice he might have for the leader of the Labour Party. “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn needs my advice,” Sanders replied. “I think he’s doing quite well.”

The week after the election, a delighted Sanders invoked Corbyn’s election performance in a New York Times op-ed. “The British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party,” he wrote, urging the Democrats to stop holding on to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology” and explaining how “momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers”.

Sanders and his growing movement in the United States offered more than mere rhetorical support for Corbyn.

With the help of former members of the senator’s presidential campaign team, Momentum – the grass-roots organisation set up to support and defend Corbyn in 2015 – ran 33 training sessions across the UK, preparing thousands of Labour activists.

Momentum’s national organiser Emma Rees says that the Sanders people made a “significant contribution” to the Labour campaign with their emphasis “on having empathetic conversations that focused on the issues the voter cared about, and actually trying to persuade voters on the doorstep rather than just collecting data”.

“In the final stage, I recruited a bunch of former Bernie volunteers from around [the United States] to . . . help get out a last [get out the vote] texting assignment,” recalls Claire Sandberg, who was the digital organising director for Sanders and spent the 2017 election campaign working with Momentum in the UK. “It was an amazing thing to see them volunteering . . . while we were all asleep the night before election day.”

Is it really surprising that Sanders supporters, thousands of miles away, would want to volunteer for Corbyn? Both men are mavericks; both have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack; both, in the words of Emma Rees, “have inspired tens of thousands of people to participate in the political process and to realise their collective power” and they want “to transform society in the interests of ordinary people”. Perhaps above all else, both men have proved that left populism can win millions of votes.

According to the latest polls, if another election were held in the UK tomorrow, Corbyn would be the winner. Sanders, however, has a much higher mountain to climb in the US and faces at least three obstacles that the “British Bernie” does not.

First, Sanders leads a growing grass-roots movement but does not have the support of a party machine and infrastructure.

Corbyn may have been a backbench rebel who voted against his party whip more than 500 times before becoming party leader, but he is a lifelong Labour member.

Sanders, on the other hand, is the longest-serving independent politician in US congressional history. He declared himself a Democrat in 2015 only in order to seek the party’s presidential nomination and promptly declared himself an independent again after he was defeated by Hillary Clinton last summer.

Such behaviour has allowed establishment Democrats to portray him (wrongly) as an opportunist, an interloper who is using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for his own benefit in a country where third-party candidacies cannot succeed.

Second, Sanders has to confront an even more hostile and sceptical media than Corbyn must. Under US law, Fox News is under no obligation to be “fair and balanced” towards Sanders – nor is CNN, for that matter.

Thanks to the UK rules on broadcaster impartiality, however, Corbyn was “able to speak directly to the voters who still get their news from TV instead of the internet”, Sandberg notes. “In contrast, Bernie was completely and totally shut out by broadcast media in the US, which considered his campaign totally irrelevant.”

Third, Sanders failed to connect with minority groups, and especially with African Americans, whereas black and Asian British voters flocked to Corbyn – a veteran campaigner for the anti-racism movement.

Two out of every three ethnic-minority voters voted Labour on 8 June. “Bernie would’ve won [the Democratic nomination] if he’d had a message that resonated with 50 per cent – just 50 per cent – of black voters, because Hillary got upwards of 90 per cent in many states,” the activist and journalist Naomi Klein, who is a supporter of both Sanders and Corbyn, told me in a recent interview for my al-Jazeera English show, UpFront, which will air later this month.

Nevertheless, she is confident that Sanders can learn lessons from his own campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and “build a winning coalition” next time which ties together the narratives of financial, racial and gender inequality.

Just as it was a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyn, it would be wrong to dismiss Bernie Sanders.

Despite media bias, and even though he doesn’t have a party machine behind him, Sanders today is still the most popular politician in the United States. And so this may be only the beginning of a new, transatlantic partnership between the two self-declared socialists. Those of us on the left who grew up watching Reagan and Thatcher, then Clinton and Blair, then Bush and Blair, may wish to pinch ourselves to check we’re not dreaming.

“I think by 2021,” Sandberg says, “we may see Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

0800 7318496