Corporation of London: an ancient institution that favours big business
It has its own secretive assets, a lobbyist who sits in parliament and runs the Square Mile in the interests of big business
Few of the workers and tourists who daily pass through the 1.2 sq miles of the City of London will realise it, but they are in the dominion of a powerful local authority, one like no other in the land.
Combining the pomp of ancient traditions and ceremonial functions with influence going right to heart of national government, the City of London Corporation oversees not only its own police force, courts and distinctive electoral system, but also its own “lobbyist” who sits opposite the Speaker in the House of Commons.
While other public institutions are subject to scrutiny under Freedom of Information law, it enjoys exemption from the transparency demanded of other local authorities. Unsurprisingly, it has critics, who have tried, and failed, to reform or even abolish the institution over successive generations.
“An ancient, semi-alien entity lodged inside the British nation state,” is how the corporation is described by the journalist and tax transparency campaigner, Nicholas Shaxson. Others, including the left Labour MP John McDonnell, describe the corporation as the last of England’s rotten boroughs.
It makes no secret of its uniqueness. “Not only is it the oldest in the country but it operates on a non-party political basis through its lord mayor, aldermen and members of the Court of Common Council,” says its website, referring to the decision-making body. Council members are elected from various wards under a highly unusual system in which candidates stand as independents rather than party representatives.
However, the real source of power in elections resides not with the votes of the relatively small number of people who are resident, but with businesses to which the franchise is extended.
Under a system which Labour peer Maurice Glasman has likened to the voting rights, or slavery franchise, of chattel owners in the American South, the will of companies having a base within the corporation’s boundaries plays a determining role in elections.
It is a system, as Shaxon noted, that became even more entrenched under Tony Blair’s premiership. “Before 2002, the 17,000 business votes (only business partnerships and sole traders could take part) already swamped the 6,000-odd residents,” he wrote.
“Blair’s reforms proposed to expand the business vote to about 32,000 and to give a say, based on the size of their workforce in the Square Mile, to international banks and other big players. Voting would reflect the wishes not of the City’s 300,000 workers, but of corporate managements. So Goldman Sachs and the People’s Bank of China would get to vote in what is arguably Britain’s most important local election.”
Aside from the voting, the roles of two other unique institutions raise eyebrows among those new to such vagaries: the office of the “Remembrancer” and the “City Cash”.
Describing the role of an office dating from the time of Elizabeth I, the City’s website says: “The Remembrancer is charged with maintaining and enhancing the City’s status and ensuring that its established rights are safeguarded.” Others, bluntly, characterise him as the City’s official lobbyist in Parliament.
The starkly-titled “City Cash” is the most controversial aspect of all. Officially “a private fund built up over the last eight centuries”, its incomes are said by the corporation to derive mainly from property, supplemented by investment earnings, which are “now used to finance activities mainly for the benefit of London as a whole, but also of relevance nationwide”.
This, say critics and reformers is the source of the corporation’s power, a fund to buy off dissent and promote the UK finance industry. It is said to generate hundreds of millions of pounds every year, but the actual size of the assets is closed to scrutiny. Thanks to perseverance of the protesters outside St Paul’s however, the City of London’s finances as well as its wider role are under an unanticipated but revealing searchlight.
Source: The Guardian
The Triad: Vatican/Washington DC/City of London
Three Cities Rule The World
UPDATE December 07 2011
British P.M. To Protect City of London Instead of The Country?
David Cameron has threatened to wield Britain’s veto to block a revision of the Lisbon treaty if fellow European leaders refuse to protect the position of the City of London at the EU summit in Brussels . Read more >