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A choice for Tories: Goldman Sachs or UKIP?

4 December 2013

9:21 PM

4 December 2013

9:21 PM

Hats-off to James Kirkup for noticing that Goldman Sachs have suggested they would “drastically” cut their UK workforce (and operations) should Britain decide to leave the European Union. That is the view of Michael Sherwood, the fellow responsible for running Goldman’s european operations.

I am sure eurosceptics will dismiss this as the usual scaremongering just as Scottish nationalists dismiss warnings that some businesses (RBS?) might shift their operations south in the event Scotland votes for independence next year. This is but one of the many ways in which the european and Scottish questions overlap or dovetail with one another.

Perhaps it is only scaremongering! But what if it isn’t? In any case, the Tory High Command can be forgiven for considering this a distinctly unhelpful intervention in the european debate.

It is true, as James observes, that investment banking houses are few people’s idea of popular heroes of capitalism. Many people may chunter that we’d be well shot of the buggers anyway. Nevertheless, Mr Sherwood’s remarks point to another looming Tory split on europe. A split, this time, between those Tories most keenly-attuned to the interests of high finance and the City of London and those more inclined to the pitchfork and populism wing of the party.

You can appease Goldman Sachs or you can appease UKIP. It will be very difficult to appease both. The party’s heart increasingly lies with the pitchforkers but its head – and, rather importantly, its bank account – still rests with the financiers.

There is, plainly, a tension between these two instincts and resolving it will go a long, long way towards determining whatever the party thinks next about europe.

With the usual caveats about the dangers of reading too much into American examples, I would simply observe that when the Republican party has been asked to choose between – to put it crudely – the interests of Wall Street and those of Main Street it has tended to side with the former.

Perhaps the Tories will choose differently. The latest polling from marginal constituencies will doubtless help concentrate minds. The Tory party seems to be in the process of persuading itself that UKIP constitute a bigger threat than even Labour. (I do not share this belief; I note only that it seems widely held.)

But making a play for UKIP voters is not a cost-free exercise and, if nothing else, this warning from Goldman Sachs may remind Tories of a truth they often seem to discount.

The Better Off Out brigade will, I suppose, have none of this and continue to insist that Britain outwith the EU will enjoy everything it presently enjoys and endure none of the things it does not. Perhaps so. But in this, too, they rather resemble Alex Salmond’s Scottish nationalists. Funny old world, sometimes.

UPDATE: Andrew Stuttaford reminds me that Peter Sutherland, Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, is a former EU commissioner. So this, the implication is, should be filed in the drawer marked They would say that wouldn’t they? Moreover, as Andrew says, the precise nature of the terms of any “Brexit” would have some impact on all this. Perhaps. But even so…


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