Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

The City still runs on nepotism

Diversity schemes haven't worked. It's time to change the long-hours, old boys' culture


When Liz Truss says she wants to give tax cuts to the wealthiest, she thinks she is making a moral argument. The rich deserve to keep their money because they are the best and brightest among us. They have succeeded on their own merit and not because of their class, sex or ethnicity.

This, she believes, is a Thatcherite view of society. But the crisis that her government has imposed on Britain is as much due to her misreading of modern history as of her economic illiteracy. Her support for the City rests on a misunderstanding of how Thatcherism transformed the top of British society, as a new and devastating study shows.

‘Highly Discriminating: Why the City Isn’t Fair and Diversity Doesn’t Work’ by Louise Ashley leads a herd of sacred cows to the slaughter. The standard story of the last half-century says that the UK used to be run by upper-class amateurs, tied together by family, school and university connections. Then Margaret Thatcher came to power and the ‘Big Bang’ deregulated and Americanised the City. The days of gentlemanly capitalism were over. From the mid-1980s, the best paid jobs in the UK went to the most talented people. Meritocracy and sandwiches at your desk replaced the old boys’ network and the three-bottle lunch.

True: sexual, racial and other prejudices blighted the City, as they blighted the rest of the country. But its institutions were fighting back by ensuring that talented women and members of minorities could not be excluded. Partners in the ‘magic circle’ of law firms now announce their ‘commitments to diversity and inclusion and targets for gender, race and ethnicity, and LGBTQ+ representation’. Goldman Sachs says it is focused on ‘cultivating and sustaining a diverse work environment’. The big four accountancy firms, the high street banks and the hedge funds say that they are equally determined to crush regressive attitudes.

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