It’s been a few months since I posted to this blog site; the long gap has had various causes, some of which are interesting (to me) others rather tedious. But a couple of news items in the last week or so have prompted me to come back.
This is a fairly remarkable story in modern-day politics since it seems that Javid resigned on a matter of principle. It appears that PM Boris Johnson, spurred on by his beanie-hatted Svengali Dominic Cummings, insisted that the Chancellor fire all his own advisors. Now this was pretty clearly a power grab by number 10, and Javid, rather than acquiesce to a state of play that he couldn’t tolerate as a “self-respecting minister”, instead gave the PM a solid “fuck you”.
I can’t really remember many British politicians resigning on principle. Back in 1982 Lord Carrington quit as Foreign Secretary to take responsibility for his department’s failings leading up to the Falklands War. Even then, almost 40 years ago, it seemed like a sepia-tinged, old-fashioned – though deeply honourable – move. I seem to recall Clare Short bailed out of Tony Blair’s government in 2003 over opposition to the Iraq war. But I have to say I struggle to remember any beyond that.
The normal course is for Ministers to hold on, clinging by their fingernails, swallowing pint after pint of political humiliation until they are either fired or the news cycle moves on.
For a Chancellor to resign is pretty extraordinary. By my calculation, with less than seven months tenure and with no budgets delivered, Javid is the shortest-serving Chancellor since Ian Macleod’s one-month stint in 1970. And, in fairness, Macleod didn’t resign – he died on the job. So … it’s really not quite the same.
Imagine how hard it must be to quit such a high level political job after such a heavy slog to get it. Imagine all the schmoozing of constituency parties Javid must have done just to get a seat to stand in as a candidate. Now imagine the uncertainty of his first election night – was he even going to get an entry-level job as MP? Then picture all the long years of clambering up the greasy pole of party favour until, at last, as Home Secretary, he enters one of the great offices of state.
Finally – Chancellor! – a job where his background in banking and in economics could really be applied. A huge election win and then, suddenly, he’s not Chancellor. Then, suddenly, he’s out in the cold with a taunting press – coming from both a left and right wing bias – gleefully writing his political obituary and wheeling out the old, but accurate saying: “All political lives … end in failure”.
Most people, if not driven by strong political animus, would surely empathise with Javid today on a purely human level. I certainly do, but my own empathy is more personal, since, years ago, before he became a politician and then a household name, Sajid was a colleague of mine at Deutsche Bank where we worked together closely for a couple of years.
We never discussed politics (we probably wouldn’t quite have seen eye to eye) but, as a senior colleague, he was great: perfectly reasonable and rational; unfailingly polite; above all, trustworthy. If we both agreed on some compromise course of action he would execute his part of it (despite sometimes not being wholly happy with every detail) rather than subvert it in secret. Believe me, in my time at Deutsche Bank, that was extremely refreshing.
In short, from what I know of him, it doesn’t surprise me that Sajid would have acted on principle. And I’m sure, when the dust has settled, he will thrive again in the future whatever he attempts. I wish him all the best.
Which brings me to the other ex-colleague of mine who has been in the news recently: Steve Jennions. Sadly, there will no bright future for Steve since he died in a car crash last week. He was 51, just a year older than Sajid.
In 2011, I hired him from Morgan Stanley to head up an FX prop trading team in Deutsche Bank. He was, as they say, a ‘larger than life character’. Quite literally in some ways, since he was a pretty big man. But he was also large figuratively. I had to intervene on a couple of occasions to get him to tone down some elements of his – inevitably hugely entertaining – market commentary pieces. Steve’s personal sense of humour and that of a German banking corporation didn’t always wholly align.
He was eccentric, but not in some superficial, attention-seeking way – his eccentricity seemed to come from deep within him and from a weird obsessiveness about all the things he cared about.
One example: he was an expert on keeping fish. And not boring, dime-a-dozen, goldfish-from-a-fair, freshwater fish – no – he kept saltwater fish that required almost industrial levels of specialised equipment and care to survive. But so knowledgeable and passionate was he about this odd, money-burning hobby that, one night, he got me toying with the idea of installing an aquarium myself. Happily for my marriage, the next day I sobered up.
Sad to say, I had to make Steve redundant when I closed the FX prop business in 2013. To his credit, he understood why I had to do it and thus, with his charm, made this, my least favourite task in business, slightly less intolerable. It was a true mark of the man. May you rest in peace Steve.
And so what connects these two unfortunate stories that have dragged me back to the keyboard?
One word: fragility. The fragility of our career hopes. The fragile, fleeting nature of glory. The fragile, fleeting nature of life itself.
“Enjoy the here and now,” these two stories say to me,
“It can all be over in an instant.”