Reclaim the City: Restore democracy to the Square Mile
The free market experiment of the last thirty years was catastrophically discredited when finance bought the world to its knees in 2008. Public anger against the banks is huge. Why then do we see no radical change?
The public will is for radical reform, but there are powerful non-democratic forces working in the opposite direction. Perhaps the most important of these is the power of Corporation of London, which today ordered Occupy protestors to leave St Paul's within 48 hours.
What is the Corporation of London?
The Corporation is a weird entity. It is the local council for the Square Mile in the centre of London known as the ‘City of London’. But it is largely voted in by corporations rather than people. Ordinary residents, such as those living in estates in Portsoken, are denied the democratic right to choose their local council, as their votes are outnumbered 4 to 1 by the votes of corporations.
But unlike other local councils, the Corporation has considerable private wealth. In addition to the money it uses to perform its function as a local government, the Corporation has a private account known as ‘City Cash’, which provides it with a few hundred million a year income from investments. This money is officially held in trust for ‘the Citizens of London’, but a large part of it is used to lobby for the banks.
However, the main source of the Corporation’s power comes from its ancient status. Lead by the Lord Mayor, and going back a thousand years, it is embedded at the heart of our political life. Sat opposite the speaker in the House of Commons is an individual called ‘The Remembrancer’, whose official role if to protect the interests of the City of London. When the Queen enters the City she must ask the permission of the Lord Mayor. Beyond these symbols, the Corporation wields enormous influence through connections with Westminster which it has built up over hundreds of years.
So we have an ancient and wealthy institution at the heart of our political life, which has been completely captured by narrow financial interests and now uses its money, status and resources to pursue deregulation and the interest of finance. It is little wonder that, despite what politicians say, we aren’t ‘rebalancing our economy’ away from an over-reliance on the instabilities of finance capital.
Alternative Lord Mayor’s Show: 12 November
It’s time to do something about it. Reclaim the City is a campaign for democratic reform of the Corporation of London. We have three concrete demands:
- We demand that the local council representing the Square Mile be chosen solely by the votes of the Citizens of London.
- We demand that the Corporation of London publishes its secret City Cash account held in trust for the Citizens of London.
- We demand that the Lord Mayor of London once again serve the interests of the Citizens of London rather than the interests of finance.
In 1381, the Lord Mayor ended the 50,000 strong peasant revolt over the poll tax by murdering its leader Wat Tyler. Join us on 12 November and, hopefully, this time we might have more success!
Philip Goff is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool and co-founder of Reclaim the City.
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