Catherine McGuinness & The Wrecking Ball Smashing Democracy

In the weeks since we called for Catherine McGuinness to go from her post as City of London council boss, she’s been profiled in The Evening Standard and become the subject of a Wikipedia entry. We’ll start by looking at The Standard piece, since this report can be interpreted as further evidence of the close relationship between McGuinness and Mark Boleat (and by implication the Housing & Finance Institute):

As chair of the Corporation’s policy and resources committee, seven months into a five-year term, she is its most senior political representative, and its ambassador abroad on the cusp of an era of historic change. Just weeks ago, she was in New York, canvassing opinions on the likely fallout from Brexit. This week, she’s in China, talking to its banks and pushing the Square Mile’s case.

McGuinness has been an elected member for 20 years representing Castle Baynard — one of the City’s 25 wards, which includes St Paul’s Cathedral within its boundaries. Westminster may be the “mother of all Parliaments” but the Square Mile’s quirky governing body — owner of one of the few surviving copies of the Magna Carta — gives a similar nod to antiquity.

Compared with other local authorities, it’s an arcane mishmash: 100 “common men” have been elected to the Common Council, the main decision making body, since the 14th century as well as 25 “aldermen”. But it’s evolved over centuries to reflect an area with around 9000 residents and a daily working population of almost 500,000, and it’s still around despite intermittent efforts to reform or abolish it over the years.

The longevity of the Corporation — and the City itself — is at least some comfort to McGuinness…. (Re: Brexit) Still, the stakes are so high that her sense of the shortcomings of those charged with delivering a deal for the City’s complex eco-system is scarcely concealed. She’s scathing over the internal warring in the Conservative Party, and particularly the “tendency in some quarters to look for easy answers, and this isn’t an easy situation”. She’s also concerned at the influence that “certain thinkers have over certain departments”, mentioning the free-trade Legatum Institute (which has the ear of Brexit ministers) but refuses to expand further.

She wants Westminster to “put pragmatism and the economy ahead of some of the political fighting that’s going on” and focus on the “absolute urgency” of securing transition. As it stands, “there is a question mark over whether [the City] will retain its pre-eminence”.

It is McGuinness’s job to keep bending the ear of ministers as well as senior civil servants like the Treasury’s director general for financial services Katharine Braddick, as well as pressing the City’s case in public as well. Her predecessor Mark Boleat, who has known her for 15 years, praises her “integrity, commitment and great knowledge” but adds with tongue in cheek that being “prepared to work full time for nothing is a core skill”.

He says: “You have to be a good listener, speaker, chairing things, you’ve got to be an all-rounder. Anything can be raised with the policy chairman, whether they like it or not. And if you’re not careful, officers can easily fill your diary — you have got to give yourself time to think.”

Meet Catherine McGuinness: The City of London Corporation’s policy chairman by Russell Lynch, Evening Standard, 1 December 2017.

What seems to be pushing both McGuinness and The City into the spotlight here is public interest in Brexit, and the realisation among some of those following the unfolding fiasco of just how much influence the City has in these and many other national and global matters. McGuinness’s Wikipedia entry appeared a few days after her profile in The Standard:

Catherine McGuinness is a politician in the City of London Corporation. She is currently chair of the Policy and Resources Committee.

She is the daughter of two academics, the philosopher Brian McGuinness and the music historian Rosamond McGuinness. Her brother, Paddy McGuinness, is currently the Deputy National Security Adviser for Intelligence, Security, and Resilience at the Cabinet Office, since 2014.

She has represented Castle Baynard ward since 1997. In May 2017 she took over from Mark Boleat as chair of the Policy and Resources Committee of the City of London Corporation, having previously been deputy chairman.

Her husband, John Gilbert, is chair of the Cripplegate Foundation and was previously a Liberal Democrat councillor in Islington (2006-2014).

This Wikipedia entry is currently only a stub and requires expansion; Companies House records, for example, might be referenced in order to provide the fuller name Catherine Sidony McGuinness, as well as this council boss’s year of birth being 1959. Hopefully this new McGuinness entry will be fully rounded out in due course. Given the financial and political power of the City, more Wikipedia entries on its key figures are very much needed.

CatherineMcGuinness
Catherine McGuinness speaks….

Returning to The Standard piece, McGuinness’s trip to China is indicative of the City’s ongoing courting of this superpower. In the resolutely undemocratic City business votes decide who controls the council and deprive those living within its jurisdiction of a proper voice in local politics. Like China, the City is an oligarchy and it seems both parties admire the other’s contempt for democracy. Likewise, as Brexit removes the UK from its alliances with Europe and Trump’s maverick behaviour alienates it from the USA, China is the only viable global power left for English politicians to suck up to as junior partners in yet another unholy capitalist alliance. In this the City are leading the way for the rest of the ‘British’ establishment.

McGuiness’s visit to China more or less coincided with the mass eviction of migrant workers living on the southern fringes of Beijing. There are definite parallels to be drawn between the ‘Communist’ Party of China’s attitudes towards urban ‘development’, and those of the Housing & Finance Institute, which receives funding from the City of London council and is chaired by its former head Mark Boleat. The Guardian reported the Beijing evictions and demolitions this way:

…authorities launched a 40-day housing crackdown following a deadly tenement fire on the city’s southern outskirts which killed 19 people, eight of them children. Activists believe authorities are using that blaze as a pretext to accelerate ongoing efforts to drive tens of thousands of “low-end” migrant workers out of the city.

Beside a sea of bricks that had been the heart of a once-bustling settlement, a man takes aim at his president’s pledge to rule as a champion of the poor.

“I think what is happening is that … Xi Jinping has water in his head,” he fumes, a teary eye giving way to anger as he recounts how officials gave Sanyingmen’s residents until 7am the next day to leave. “I’ve no idea what the China dream really means,” the 40-year-old says. “My nights are sleepless. How can I possibly dream?”

Some activists suspect even more sinister motives lie behind the mass eviction and demolition campaign, such as grabbing valuable land in gentrifying areas of the city. In recent years property prices have rocketed in Daxing, a region of southern Beijing that has been the focus of much of the wrecking. The city’s new international airport – an 80bn yuan (£9bn) mega-structure designed by Zaha Hadid Architects – is set to open there in 2019.

The gentrification of Beijing: razing of migrant villages spells end of China dream by Tom Phillips, The Guardian, 8 December 2017.

Curiously, the London based architectural firm that designed the new Beijing international airport is headed by Patrik Schumacher, whose controversial calls for the scrapping of planning regulations and restrictions neatly chime with those of Mark Boleat and his colleagues at both the City of London and the Housing & Finance Institute. When it comes to housing and much else, the ideology of the Chinese authorities and the City of London can be hard to differentiate. And this is simply one of many reasons why we must fight against them. Hong Kong-Beijing-City of London, one struggle for democracy!

Pippa Henslowe

NOTES.

Wikipedia entry on Catherine McGuinness: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_McGuinness_(English_politician)

The gentrification of Beijing: razing of migrant villages spells end of China dream by Tom Phillips: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/08/beijing-gentrification-china-migrant-villages-destroyed

Zaha Hadid’s successor: scrap art schools, privatise cities and bin social housing. The extreme views of Patrik Schumacher, who has taken over at the global firm, are causing outrage. His vision? Let the market rule – and don’t put equality before profit by Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian, 24 November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/24/zaha-hadid-successor-patrik-schumacher-art-schools-social-housing

BeijingEvictionsDemolition
A small portion of the huge swathe of working class housing demolished in recent weeks by the authorities in Beijing; those belonging to the City of London council and the Housing & Finance Institute can currently only dream of being able to approach urban ‘redevelopment’ in quite such a brutal way.

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