Venetia Thompson

Wrong kind of sex in the City

Wrong kind of sex in the City
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By far the most surprising twist in the sorry tale of the demise of David Laws, is that it has yet to unleash another round of banker bashing. There is plenty potential for it. Why, it might be asked, would such a confident and accomplished MP refuse to admit to being gay? Why in this day and age, when so many have paved the way before him, couldn’t he have just come out? The answer may well lie in his career background. Laws came from one of the very hardest places for gay man to be open about their sexuality: the City of London.

As I know from my own time among them, the world of financiers is one in which turning up at work wearing a pink shirt prompts a relentless barking chorus of ‘bender!’ This is often accompanied by hundreds of phones being hammered on desks, until said ‘bender’ removes the offending item of clothing. It was the behaviour of drunken rugby fans, but carried out by traders drunk only on the money they were making. This would have been the environment in which Laws made his name and his money.

   The existence of the lesser-spotted gay City boy – like that of Big Foot or unicorns - is denied by most. As one trader remarked to me this morning when I asked him if he had any gay colleagues ‘well, I think there might have been one once. He was actually quite cool, and not camp. You would never have really known,’ before adding, ‘can’t imagine you would find any on a broking floor though. I mean what’s a gay guy going to do at a strip club?’ Just what a woman might do in a strip club concerned them even less.

   Laws, who retired from banking a millionaire at 29, would have had to master the art of fitting in to this environment. He was a spectacularly successful trader at JP Morgan from 1987 to 1992, before becoming head of the US dollar and sterling treasuries desk (always something of a hot spot in any bank, and certainly not for the faint-hearted) at Barclays de Zoete Wedd. If anyone had a chance of cutting the crippling budget deficit before we ended up in the same mess as various European countries, it was Laws.

   Many MPs seem to find it baffling that he may leave politics for good.  But one gay head trader at a large investment bank told me that he understood all too well. “I had to fight my way to the top of the City, bastion of homophobia that it is, becoming the loudest, most aggressive trader on the floor so that nobody dares even consider my private life. So I can understand how this would be the last straw for him. Being ‘outed’ for less than a starting salary at most banks is pretty stomach turning. It’s the last time anyone talented will leave the City for politics."