The City of London has a uniquely rotten political apparatus. There is a huge business vote, one with roughly twice the numbers and infinitely more power than those who actually live in the borough. Elsewhere in the UK the business vote was abolished nearly half-a-century ago, the City is the only place to retain it. Recently not only have ordinary residents in the area been self-organising to change things, but there has been for the political establishment here the ‘terrifying’ rise of the Labour in the City; who’ve gone from having no seats in the council to occupying five percent of them, while simultaneously managing to make Tony Blair look radical. Vested interests in the City don’t like this because even the ultra-moderate and respectable Labour in the City pose a threat to their hardline finance first politics.
The residential electorate in the City only numbers a few thousand, so unfortunately it’s easy for entrenched interests to game the system by uprooting relatively small parts of the population to change the social composition of Wards. Thus the status quo’s response to growing dissatisfaction and self-organisation is to shift as much social housing as possible outside the tiny borough and increase the overall percentage of compliant rich living within its boundaries. One manifestation of this was the decision to shut down the police section house on Golden Lane, which was built to put a roof over the heads of around 110 people. At the time of its closure Bernard Morgan House was housing not just cops but nurses as well; whether it had become surplus to police requirements is a moot point, but it was certainly still needed for NHS staff and school teachers.
Rather than continuing to use the site as social housing, vested interests went out of their way to ensure it was sold to a private developer to build luxury apartments. The initial plan was to flog the land off to Redrow Homes. This was torpedoed by delays caused while an ultimately unsuccessful application to list the architecturally significant Bernard Morgan House was being considered by Historic England. Before the matter was resolved, Redrow withdrew from the central London housing market. As a result Taylor Wimpey came into the frame as the City’s best bet for a luxury development and that company ultimately bought the building for £30.4 million. This despite a higher offer apparently being received from a firm that wanted to refurbish the section house, and use it as student accommodation among other things.
The selling of Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey and the subsequent granting of planning permission to demolish the existing building and replace it with luxury apartments has all the appearances of political manoeuvring by vested interests; especially in light of the fact the City of London intends to build a social housing tower block mere millimetres over its borough boundary and a couple of minutes walk away on an Islington section of Golden Lane. Adding to the stink emanating from this scandalous situation is the fact that there will NOT be any – absolutely zero – social or ‘affordable’ housing provision within Taylor Wimpey’s scheduled upmarket development. This gerrymandering is anti-democratic and makes the entire planning process illegitimate – without even getting into other conflict of interest questions that have been raised elsewhere.
Before contracts were actually exchanged with Taylor Wimpey, the council announced its plans for the future provision of ‘social housing’ with a heavy emphasis on providing homes for those who aren’t affluent outside its political boundaries. Precisely because vested interests are involved, there should be no luxury apartments on the site of Bernard Morgan House. It must be refurbished so that it can continue to provide social housing for key workers. We don’t want Taylor Wimpey’s Gerrymander Mansions, or the sales hype that accompanies the marketing of their luxury apartments in central London. But if Taylor Wimpey gave us the job of producing copy for its Golden Lane promotional brochure, here’s some of what we’d put in it:
Gerrymander Mansions is a unique collection of ninety-nine luxury one, two and three bedroom contemporary apartments situated at OS Grid TQ322820, 43 Golden Lane. Located in the bustling heart of cosmopolitan Cripplegate, the eagerly anticipated development has 24-hour security so that any owners who want to inspect their investment are protected from the angry proles in neighbouring council housing. All the amenities you already enjoy in your detached main home will be on hand; they’ll just be packed into a much smaller and metre for metre way more expensive space!
You’ll be able to stand tall knowing your apartment building is blocking sunlight and plunging the hoi polloi into darkness! If these whingers are working regular hours they don’t need daylight in their flats, schools and park; and if they’re not employed they don’t deserve to see the sun! Watching the common herd from behind your mirrored windows will provide better entertainment than anything you’ll see on TV. They won’t be able to see you, but you’ll be able to stare right into their homes!
We’ve bulldozed a heritage asset that housed around 100 key workers to build something that’s both obnoxious and postmodern; and by replacing social housing with luxury apartments and displacing the plebs outside City of London borough boundaries, we’re preventing them from disrupting the profits-before-people politics of the Corporation of London with extremist demands for democracy and political accountability. If we let the screaming mob have their say they’ll abolish the business vote! And we can’t let that happen, can we? By buying into our scheme you’re doing your bit to maintain a political zone in which there is zero-tolerance not just for the poor, but middle-income earners too!
Gerrymander Mansions doesn’t just provide you with a ghost home and fantastic investment opportunity, it’s also an irrefutable political statement that says I don’t need NHS nurses and state school teachers living in Cripplegate because I can afford private health care and private schools! London is the greatest city in the world and by buying one or more of our luxury apartments you’re helping to clean the place up while rigging the electoral system in favour of big business at the same time. What more could you want? Buy to leave! Gerrymander Mansions, yet another reassuringly expensive political investment opportunity for the super-rich brought to you by Taylor Wimpey, Central London.
Left: Golden Lane with Bernard Morgan House; right with Gerrymander Mansions.
NOTE: The painting above gives some hints about at the turbulence of City of London politics in earlier centuries. It is John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke by Richard Houston (circa 1768). The picture shows the three men seated at a table with documents and a barely visible painting on the wall behind them which in later engraved versions bears the inscription: ‘Magna Carta’. The picture refers to the riots around the Middlesex elections of 1768 when Wilkes and Glynn stood as candidates. The Magna Carta refers to the Society for Supporting the Bill of Rights that was set up by these men in February 1769.
Wilkes was both an Alderman of the City of London and a member of the Hellfire Club. He was elected to the office of Alderman in 1769, while incarcerated in Newgate Prison. This was after he’d been repeatedly elected as an MP and expelled from Parliament for “outlawry”; basically his willingness to speak the truth to power was criminalised as ‘obscene and malicious libel’ against King George III. Later, Wilkes was elected Lord Mayor of London (1774–75). It seems Wilkes was also initiated as a Freemason in Jerusalem Lodge No. 197 in 1769, with the officers of the lodge conducting the ceremony in King’s Bench Prison because he was still doing time for defending freedom of the press.
Wilkes lost popular support after leading troops defending the Bank of England against rioters in 1780. There is a statue of Wilkes in Fetter Lane in his old City of London Ward of Farringdon Without. So it seems the Corporation has rewarded him for his work on their behalf; but this public sculpture should also serve to remind today’s council that its politics have not always been quite as rotten as they are now.