The Next Metals Trader Hoping to Shake Up British Politics
(Bloomberg) -- London’s metals men have often taken an interest in politics.
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence party who successfully campaigned for Brexit, started his career trading on the London Metal Exchange. Conservative party treasurer Mick Davis headed up miner Xstrata Plc and one of his predecessors, Michael Farmer, runs the the multi-billion pound metals hedge fund, Red Kite.
Now Farmer’s son, George, is trading copper while trying to make a name in conservative politics. A 28-year-old a fund manager at Red Kite, he’s donated nearly 100,000 pounds ($131,000) to the Tory Party.
More controversially, he also heads up the U.K. chapter of Turning Point, an American student group set up to challenge the alleged dominance of progressive liberal ideas on university campuses. It’s championed by Farmer’s fiancee, Candace Owens, a well-known figure in U.S. conservative circles.
The younger Farmer is a long way from emulating Farage and becoming a front-line politician, let alone a household name, but he has gained some very high-profile supporters. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Owens on her forthcoming marriage and said Farmer “seems like a nice guy to me.”
The launch of Turning Point U.K. won endorsements from several prominent Conservative members of parliament including Jacob Rees-Mogg, standard-bearer for the party’s Brexiteer faction, and former cabinet minister Priti Patel.
Farmer, who sports a red "Make America Great Again" cap in his Twitter profile, is an outspoken, often inflammatory, conservative voice online. Last month, he tweeted at U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, saying, "It takes a special person to be this unbelievably dumb."
He’s also a fierce advocate for a hard split with Europe, and said he’d never vote for the Tories again if the government extends the Brexit deadline beyond March 29.
“Of course everyone wants a deal, but at the moment we’re negotiating with ideological extremists,” he said in an interview in London.
His political moves have already caused controversy. Turning Point has faced allegations of ties to far-right figures in the U.S. and been accused of racial bias. Its move into Britain hasn’t been universally welcomed. One prominent Labour lawmaker, David Lammy, responded to the group’s launch by saying on Twitter that "sinister forces are taking hold of our country."
Farmer says his agenda is firmly in the political mainstream: "My only concerns are less regulation, less taxation, less government, and more free speech."
Farmer is the third generation of the family to make a living in metal markets. Educated at St Paul’s in London, one of Britain’s most exclusive fee-paying schools, he studied at Oxford University, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, a male-only dining club that counts David Cameron and Boris Johnson among its former members.
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His father, Michael, is also a major figure in Britain’s Conservative Party, donating more than 8 million pounds since 2001 and serving as treasurer. He’s also championed social causes that are grounded in the Christian faith he found at age 35.
He made his fortune through Red Kite, which he founded in 2005 with Oskar Lewnowski and David Lilley, and earned the nickname "Mr. Copper" for his mastery of the market. In 2012, Red Kite was responsible for supplying about 15 percent of the copper that China was consuming, and a year later held about $3.5 billion in assets.
The fund has shrunk since then, hit by slumping metal markets and the withdrawal of major banks and investors from the industry. Red Kite closed its Tamarisk Fund last year, underscoring that times are still hard for the sector, even after metal prices rebounded.
“It’s no secret that it’s been a tough few years for commodity funds,” Farmer said, declining to comment specifically on recent performance.
The younger Farmer insisted his political ambitions are not distracting him from his commitment to Red Kite and he sees attractive long-term trading opportunities opening up in the next few years, including those arising from world leaders’ growing interventions in commerce and trade on the global stage.
“There are investment opportunities out there," Farmer said. "There is obviously a desire to pick the next battle."
As for the political side of his life, he’s non-committal on how it could develop: "It’s too early to say what I’ll be doing in the future."
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