Zak mir on The Mayfair Set

3 mins. to read

One of the least impressive aspects of the financial markets these days, apart from the way that almost everyone appears to be an expert, is that there is almost no reference to anything which happened prior to the financial crisis.

It is also interesting that there is a cult of youth in the City, as if we are dealing with the same contingencies that apply to pop stars, actors or models. However, for someone who is fast approaching 50 myself, the lessons of the past three decades are always in mind. On this basis, it is very difficult to listen to the advice of “schoolboy” brokers in their 20s or even early 30s. From my perspective unless you are at least 40 (and it is clear that even Chancellor George Osborne, who assumed his role before this age did most of his learning on the job), you would do well to defer to the wisdom of your elders.

But as well as referring to older, wiser heads, I am also referring to other eras as well. For instance, the 1960s not only changed popular culture and the famous British Class System, there was also a sea change in the City of London. The grandees/Captains of Industry who had dominated the City of London since Victorian times were swept away by upstarts known as the Mayfair Set. A documentary by “establishment contrarian” Adam Curtis was first broadcast in 1999 (and viewable on Youtube) regarding the group of friends, gamblers and business associates based at the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square. This zone is now of course home to a myriad of hedge funds and investment companies.

Given that it is already 15 years old, it is amazing that almost all of the analysis and conclusions remain as relevant now as they were back then. Perhaps the only slight change is that after the financial crisis with the bank bailouts it is difficult to tell whether politicians are the servants of the bankers or the other way around? What we do know is that the fines being imposed on banks by their “regulators” are essentially a tax on current account holders by the back door.

The Mayfair Set included my heroes Jim Slater, John Aspinall and Sir James Goldsmith, as well as the more colourful characters of Roland “Tiny” Roland, the man who most famously lost out to Mohammed Al Fayed in the battle for Harrods. In fact, between all of these larger than life figures there is very little left to know in terms of the markets and indeed politics if you study their history between the 1960s and the 1990s.

The start of this period brought with it terms such as hostile takeovers, asset stripping and in turn truly international financial markets, where currency flows and the rise and fall of commodities proved to be much more powerful forces than anything the politicians could unleash. It can be said that the white flag was well and truly raised when Chancellor Gordon Brown gave “operational” independence to the Bank of England over interest rates in 1997. This came just five years after the UK was forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. I am reminded that if a country can be held to ransom by short selling, what chance does a public company have in the face of a concerted bear conspiracy?

The importance of the Mayfair Set is that unwittingly or otherwise the foundation of the Political/Financial structure we have now – the good, the bad, and the ugly – stems from those times. In fact, I am reminded that one of the last appearances of Goldsmith before his death in 1997 was as a candidate in Putney for the Referendum Party, a Eurosceptic group which he founded and funded, and which it could be argued was an embryonic UKIP.

Of course, for the 2015 General Election we will see UKIP attempting to change British politics, and force a referendum on Europe. If only Sir James had lived long enough to be a part of the battle next year…

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