We Europeans are taking over London's financial sector. Why?

It can't be the weather.

When I arrived in London two years ago it was raining, it was grey and it took me a quarter of an hour to change from the Bakerloo to the Hammersmith and City line in Paddington, without using an iPhone map. This was the area where I had booked my hotel, the night before my job interview. Now I think of Paddington as the purgatory of London, where enterprising Europeans find a cheap hotel to transform themselves from tourists still excited about the idea of going to Oxford Street into proper unexcitable Londoners.

The morning of the interview it was raining, it was grey and I had no idea of how to turn the pages of the Financial Times without killing my seat-neighbour. I still wonder why a newspaper mostly read by people going to the City on the tube is engineered to be so tube-unfriendly.

The interview went well, I guessed what team the manager supported and I did understand his foreign Northern England accent. What really struck me, though, was his last request: you will start on Friday, and here we have dress-down Friday. “Oh great, thank you”. I had no idea what that meant. How badly do you have to dress on a dress down Friday? What’s a dress code? It was a concept beyond "Continental" business language. In Italy the only rule is to dress better than anyone around you, unless you are a journalist. In other Northern countries the rule is to dress worse than anyone around you, especially if you are a journalist.

So there I was, having done my best to be completely dressed down on my first day of work in this country, while outside it was raining and the sky was grey. It was July and I still believed Summer existed.

It didn’t really matter. There was something in that British rain that called me and many privileged migrants to this city that continuously absorbs millions of lives in the innards of the tube to then expel them into a world of dressed up business people.

I didn’t know Italy, France and Spain had such a large population until I came to London. Italians have even overtaken Russians as first buyers of prime London properties, according to agency Knight Frank, with many of them working in finance. Some say that London is the sixth largest French city, with some 300,000 Napoleonic citizens.

So why are we all here? This is the question I am trying to answer.

The latest UK unemployment figures show that the jobless total has decreased to 2.51 million, while the number of people in work has risen by 24,000 in the three months to April.

These figures are better than in many other European countries, but they are not enough to explain the appeal of this country and its capital to many highly educated and experienced Europeans.

I left my secure Euro-welfearised job to come here. Was it for the money? Not at all: in London you dream about earning more money, so that you can spend it on a hideously expensive rent.

My contract is much weaker compared to my Italian one. But when I meet with my friends on Sunday at "our" pub in Pimlico nobody seems to be too bothered about the easiness with which that contract can be broken. This lightness – in the back of our mind – is part of the attraction. It’s what makes things move in an era where speed is the key factor and the economy is less and less made of tangible goods. It’s – and this is where part of the calamite-effect comes from – the possibility to accept new energy. Looking at the faces sitting around that pub I hear lots of languages – or lots of ways of speaking English - and one thing becomes clear: to be a real Londoner you cannot be really from London. You have to be like wind, and become part of the energy that flows into the city. The capital of the country is a huge vase that contains people who left their roots but have found a way to grow. And it is not only for its geographical position that London has become such a crucial centre for finance, a world based on volatility, on speed, on risk and on what is defined in opposition to the "real" economy.

Will the appeal and the energy of this country collapse as a Lehman Brothers dream?

Two years later, 457 Costa coffees, some warm beers and many typically British curries later, outside it’s raining and the sky is grey. I believe Summer exists only on the Central line, not in real life. At the pub we complain about the weather, the NHS and the bad wine, which as soon as it arrives in England becomes sad, expensive and 10 times less good. Many know that a life here has its risks and shortcomings, but the bet has been successful so far. Keep the umbrella in your handbag, and it will be a sunny day.

Photograph: Getty Images

Sara Perria is the Assistant Editor for Banking and Payments, VRL Financial News

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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.