The LIFFE Futures Trader statue
July 13, 2011
Currently standing behind a barricade of steel as the buildings behind it are levelled for redevelopment, the LIFFE Futures Trader statue on Walbrook, EC4 must be one of London’s least loveable pieces of public art.
Sculpted in 1996 by Stephen Melton, a plaque set into the ground reads: “LIFFE Trader. Unveiled by Christine Mackenzie Cohen, Chairman of the Trees, Gardens and Open Spaces Sub-Committee 1st October 1997”. That dry dedication wouldn’t be out of place in 1970s East Berlin, were it not for the fact the statue is an unalloyed celebration of Capitalism.
LIFFE is the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, and the type of trader the statue represents – the garishly-jacketed men who stood on the floor of the Stock Exchange, wildly gesticulating and signalling – is an open outcry dealer. Two years after the statue was unveiled, most of the “colourful and loud-mouthed traders” (as the BBC put it) were laid off, replaced by electronic systems through 1999 and 2000.
Tony Blair visits LIFFE traders in 1997 (Guardian)
I understand why it’s there – it commemorates the last three decades of the area’s relationship with banks, futures markets, stocks and shares. And why shouldn’t statues be made of the ordinary man, instead of just long-dead generals and monarchs? Why not commemorate a specific job at a specific moment in time with a representation of a typical Londoner from the area? It all makes sense.
The problem with the statue is that it immortalises one of the worst types of Londoner. It’s a celebration of the type of person who only values London as a place to make money.
When I first saw the statue, I didn’t think it was of a Londoner – I thought he probably lives in Guildford, where he has an inexpensive sports car and a wife who he wants to cheat on, but hasn’t yet managed to. He gets off the train at Waterloo with a hangover, heads straight to the office, goes out to a Pret at lunchtime, and is back on the Waterloo train at half six, probably making loud phone calls in a crowded carriage. The only cultural place he’s been to is Madame Tussaud’s when he was at school; the only meal he’s ever had in London is a curry round the back of the office with some of the other Futures Traders, where they got drunk and mildly racist when the bill came.
Look at the smirk on his face. His big phone, on which he’s halfway through trying to get some charlie sorted for the weekend. His unravelled tie, hinting that he’s had a couple of jars already. The sideways glance he’s giving, as if following the arse of every woman who walks by. And the fact that even though he’s making money by the fistful, he still has to wear a badge with his name on it, just the same as if he worked in Asda.
Just round the corner from the LIFFE trader is the London Stone, one of the capital’s oldest, most mysterious relics which is now stuck into the front of a deserted office block. When I was there, about a dozen people took photographs of the statue. The statue is 14 years old. None of the people walking past the London Stone even glanced at it.
And that’s what this statue represents to me. The triumph of money over heritage, and the ordinary over the curious.