The anti-democratic nature of the City of London council is well illustrated by the views of its members, and perhaps most telling are what those who have been in charge of it have to say on the matter. We’ve already dealt with former chair of the Policy and Resources Committee (or head of the council) Mark Boleat, so now we turn our attention to Stuart John Fraser who held the boss position from 2008 until 2012. Fraser was first ‘elected’ (on undemocratic business votes) to the Court of Common Council for Coleman Street Ward in 1992, and he still represents this division. Here’s some choice Fraserism from journalist Nicholas Shaxson’s blog:
Stuart Fraser is the former head of the powerful Policy & Resources Committee of the peculiar City of London Corporation, and an influential figure in Britain. He’s quoted in The Price We Pay, a recent documentary on tax havens and corporate tax avoidance. He says in the film:
“Many politicians have an illusion that they actually run their country, when actually they run their country within the confines that the global financial system places on them.”
Who runs our countries: us, or global finance by Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands website, 11 November 2015.
On page 315 of his book Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, Shaxson also notes: “In the Channel 4 Dispatches programme of 14 June 2010 it was put to Fraser that he was probably the most effective lobbyist in the country. He said, ‘I guess that’s probably right.’ ” Nonetheless, many City of London residents don’t think it’s right that their local council spends millions of pounds every year lobbying for what it euphemistically describes as market liberalisation but actually amounts to tax breaks and other benefits for the super-rich. In his book immediately after invoking Fraser and using the name the Corporation for The City of London, Shaxson observes:
The Corporation shapes and sustains a consensus in favour of the financial interest. It seeks to influence legislation at home and abroad. The Corporation’s fingerprints are all over the Financial Services and Markets Act of 2001, which declared that Britain’s then regulator, the Financial Services Authority, should not ‘discourage the launch of new financial products’, that it must avoid ‘erecting regulatory barriers’ and ‘avoid damaging the UK’s competitiveness’. Yet this doesn’t quite capture what is going on. For if you delve deeply enough… you find that the Corporation is so ancient and mystifying that barely any outsiders understand it. Treasure Islands page 254.
Another journalist, Sarah Krouse put the matter this way in a story she wrote:
Stuart Fraser, one of the most vocal proponents of the UK banking industry, is stepping down next year as the policy chairman for the City of London Corporation, which governs the city’s main financial district…
Members of the policy and resources committee that Fraser chairs will be eligible for his position and the new leader will be elected in the spring, a spokesman said.
The committee is comprised of a mix of legal, financial and other professional services leaders including Sir Michael Snyder, senior partner at accounting firm Kingston Smith, Sir David Lewis, a consultant with law firm, Norton Rose and Michael Cassidy, a consultant with DLA Piper…
The City of London Corporation plays a large role in advocating for London business, namely the financial services sector. In the role, Fraser has trumpeted the contribution of London’s financial services sector, fought “banker bashing” and pushed for policies that keep London competitive with other financial hubs globally.
In addition to his current role with the City, Stuart is a director of investment management firm Brewin Dolphin Securities, an associate of the CFA and a fellow of the Securities and Investment Institute.
Stuart Fraser will leave his position as policy chairman for the City of London Corporation in the spring to experience the historic events scheduled for London in 2012 by Sarah Krouse, Financial News London, 11 November 2011.
Another journalist begins her profile of Fraser this way:
Stuart Fraser is quite possibly the most important cog in London’s economy you’ve never heard of. His day-to-day duties include sweet-talking China and India’s governments and banks into allowing London a decent mouthful of their ever-expanding pie. He regularly cajoles Westminster and Brussels into diluting increasingly draconian banking regulation.
He decides how the City of London will look in 20 years’ time. He maintains more than 10,000 acres of London’s open space. Not infrequently, he hosts dinners for heads of state.
Stuart Fraser is the chairman of policy and resources at the City of London Corporation – jointly the most senior role within the corporation, working alongside the Lord Mayor. (The chairman serves five years to each Lord Mayor’s one.)
He is responsible for safeguarding the City of London’s future and international competitiveness, and those of the UK’s entire financial service industry.
Unbeknown to many Londoners, the City of London Corporation that Fraser joined in 1993 primarily supports the interests of businesses rather than residents, differentiating it from all other London councils.
The corporation also represents the UK’s entire financial services industry, which employs one in 47 people in the country and contributes 10 per cent to its total tax receipts – more than any other industry.
The most important Londoner you’ve never heard of by Sophie Hobson, London Loves Business, 1 September 2011.
What Hobson doesn’t explain is why residents in the City of London, and especially poorer residents living in social housing, should have to put up with a council that places ‘the interests of businesses’ above what those who actually live here want. That said, Hobson’s profile does make it clear that the City of London’s hatred of democracy is rooted in avarice:
Then Fraser stops dancing around the damage that increasingly draconian regulation is inflicting on the City.
“There has been a fair amount of sabre rattling, mainly actually by the American investment banks, who are and remain very angry. Very angry. They say: ‘We’re here, we pay the taxes, we’ve never made a loss here, we’ve never borrowed and yet we pay all this levy and everything else and now were treated the way we are’.
“Now, right or wrong, it doesn’t matter, but that’s their attitude.” Is it particularly the levy that’s stinging them? “Well, the levy, but the marginal tax rate doesn’t help.” Again, it all comes back to London’s ability – or inability – to attract international talent.
“[Financial] people thinking of coming to London say: ‘Well, the tax is too high, and all I read in the papers is that I’m a crook’. It doesn’t go down well internationally.”
He also cautions on remuneration restrictions. “You might have a view on how much someone should be paid, but if that view is wrong in the global marketplace, you lose them.”…
Fraser lobbies the government and Brussels (the corporation has an office there too) to try to loosen the noose of all these issues. “Obviously we try to find allies somewhere for it. That’s why I go to Frankfurt, to Berlin, to our office in France and Italy…
The merry band of MPs lining up to bash bankers in this country doesn’t exactly help. “Politicians certainly agree with the logic of what we do, but then they say, ‘when you’re out on the doorstop, I get it in the neck with people asking me what I’m doing with those bastard bankers’.”
It must be incredibly frustrating, dealing with people who, behind the scenes, agree with your economic logic, but then oppose everything you do in public. “Yup! But then they have to, they are elected by the people.”
The most important Londoner you’ve never heard of by Sophie Hobson, London Loves Business, 1 September 2011.
Having made this implicit distinction between MPs who are elected by the people in a democratic system, and City of London councillors – 80% of whom are elected by business votes – it logically follows that Fraser is dissembling in the following response to George Monbiot’s description of the City of London Corporation – “the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die” from a 31 October 2011 Guardian piece entitled The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest:
Monbiot says that in 21 of our 25 electoral wards “the votes are controlled by corporations, mostly banks and other financial companies”. To clarify, every single one of our 9,000 residents can vote in the City’s local elections. Where the City of London differs from other local authorities is that it is also home to 300,000 people who commute into the Square Mile every day.
To recognise this, City businesses can register, and firms are allocated votes according to how many people they employ…
The City of London is not above the law. Our elections are free and fair by Stuart Fraser, The Guardian, 3 November 2011.
Democratic electoral systems work on the basis of one vote for each elector. Those with business votes also get to vote where they live, whereas most City of London residents do not get to vote where they work. Likewise business votes decide roughly 80% of the seats on the council, effectively depriving residents of any real voice or choice in local political matters. Clearly this situation is undemocratic and unfair; the best way of rectifying it is to abolish the business vote in the City of London. Here are a few of the comments to be found beneath Fraser’s disingenuous Guardian piece:
If they commute in, they ain’t residents, are they Stuart. Another load of dissembling cobblers.
It’s hard to know where to start isn’t it? Blimey. What a slippery article. I might print it out and rub it on my bicycle chain.
Democracy, and the right to protest, isn’t a tragedy, Stuart – or perhaps it is, in your world.
There is no point in waiting anymore, reform is not a polite request it’s political necessity, without which, we will have a problem staving off, very dark days, that blot our future horizon.
…there are still questions many people would like to have answers to with regard to The City of London and it’s Corporation. I would like to find out more detail about the legal, functional and financial benefits for companies that either do business through the City of London, or register, incorporate, base their companies there. We, the public, need more understanding about why our politicians are so enthralled to the City, why they are reluctant or unable to get the companies based in ‘the City’ to accept regulations on their methods of doing business. Exactly why would these companies / employees get up and leave if regulations were brought in? As is often threatened? If there are already other countries around the world that don’t regulate, why haven’t these Companies / Sole Traders / Employees etc. already gone?
You’ve hidden the key question: How are the votes allocated to people who work in the City? The answer is, of course, that the employer – the owner of the company – chooses which employees get a vote. The vast majority choose the most senior staff, i.e. the wealthiest. If you want to reform the City to make it more representative, then either allow everyone who works there to vote – down to the cleaners who clean the banks – or at the least force each employer to allocate the votes between all eligible staff by ballot (i.e. randomly) so junior (poorer) employees get to vote too.
…businesses can register, and firms are allocated votes according to how many people they employ… No matter how you dress it up, this is big business having a direct say in local democracy. Is each & every member of staff asked how they’d like the boss to vote? If not, why should the capitalist get a vote that is denied his/her workforce? Stinks something rotten.
“City businesses can register, and firms are allocated votes according to how many people they employ; clearly this includes banks, but also insurers, accountants, solicitors, restaurants, retailers, sandwich shops, newsagents and so on. They vote exactly the same way as residents do – as individuals in the privacy of the polling booth casting a secret ballot.” Something tells me that it’s not the workers in the sandwich shops, restaurants or even the insurers who get to do the voting! Stuart, you’ve tried to finesse your hand by implying that all those 300,000 who commute in get a vote but you’ve not actually explained how many votes there actually are and how they are decided on. Majority vote in the staff canteen? I also couldn’t help but grin at your fantasy that the City is ‘home to 300,000 people who commute into the Square Mile every day’. So that’s the way ahead – sleep, eat, wash, watch TV at your place of work – so much more efficient. Who needs that old-fashioned notion of a home life, executives excepted naturally.
Firms are allocated votes according to how many people they employ. There’s your problem, right there. The people they employ don’t live there. Who casts the vote allocated for these people? I wonder if anyone in authority in Britain has the faintest idea about representative democracy, or is even capable of understanding it. You don’t have a bloody clue.
City of London differs from other local authorities in that it is also home to 300,000 people who commute into the Square Mile every day. If they commute there each day then it is very obviously not their home. All of the City’s decisions are made by elected members Yes, elected on a totally surreal and undemocratic basis.
Are you suggesting that we restrict who’s allowed to vote in local elections based on their income ?
I am glad you have come on here completely vindicating George’s recent article. Nothing in this article justifies why these people should have a vote on anything if they don’t live there.
Why should businesses have a vote simply because people work in the area? This does not happen anywhere else in the country. Your employees vote in the areas where they actually live. The existence of the Corporation Of London is an anachronism that exists simply because you have the money to buy off anyone with the power to take away your fiefdom. It shouldn’t even be it’s own local government and council district. It should be attached to one of the real councils that surround it. You are a jumped up business park with delusions of democracy..
After this this poor showing on the subject of democracy and the City of London, Fraser scored another own goal when he went to debate Occupy London on the subject:
…what was remarkable was how easily Fraser conceded defeat on so many points. In an effort to claim that the City of London Corporation was a modern, democratic institution – in response to George Monbiot’s recent comment piece in The Guardian – Fraser claimed that anyone was able to become an Alderman. Father William Taylor pointed out that this was wrong on three counts:
- You need to be a ‘freeman’, and in order for that to happen you need a Liveryman or Common Councillor/Alderman to propose and second you (and then you need to pay £30).
- To be an Alderman, you have to also be accepted as a Justice of the Peace.
- As an Alderman you are expected to take your turn as Lord Mayor. To be Lord Mayor you must have around £30,000 of your own money spare to throw a Lord Mayor’s Banquet.
In other words, if you are poor and/or not well connected then you unable to stand as alderman
Fraser conceded all these points without qualification. While mainstream politicians are well used to ducking and dodging questions, one got the feeling that Councillors in the Corporation of London have not been subject to the regular challenges necessary to hone such skills.
And whilst Fraser claimed in The Guardian’s Responses column that “talk of the City of London being “an official old boys’ network” is wide of the mark”, it become apparent when challenged in a public forum that there are ample grounds for applying to label “official old boys’ network” to the institution Fraser serves in.
The Chairman of the City of London Corporation debates outside Saint Paul’s by Philip Goff, Tax Justice Blog, 9 November 201.
But then Fraser wasn’t exactly on top of the game when it came to defending the finance industry from ‘banker bashing’ either:
A City grandee caused outrage today by saying that bank chiefs deserve big bonuses for doing the “tough job” of sacking staff.
Stockbroker Stuart Fraser, the City of London policy committee chairman, was defending the £1 million offered to RBS chief executive Stephen Hester.
“If your bank gets someone in there who is going to take the hard decisions about cutting out businesses, parts of the businesses, frankly making people redundant, which is a tough job, and bringing the company back into viability, then of course you’re going to reward him if he does that well,” said Mr Fraser.
Since Mr Hester took over, RBS has announced 11,000 redundancies out of a pre-crash workforce of 24,000. Mr Hester waived his bonus after coming under political pressure but John Hourican, the head of the bank’s investment division overseeing the restructuring, kept his.
Mr Fraser’s remark was branded “outrageous” by Labour MP John Mann, a member of the Treasury select committee. He said: “It’s clearly nonsense that people should get bonuses for firing people. It’s nothing like as difficult as creating and protecting jobs.”
Bankers who slash jobs ‘deserve bonus’, by anonymous, The Evening Standard, 31 January 2012.
But perhaps nothing better sums up Stuart Fraser as a demagogue who has no time for democracy than the following quote:
“I would be most content if I leave the City in a better state than I came to it. Yes, it’s a general statement, but I would still like the City of London to dominate the world.”
From Stuart Fraser keeps a cool head in the eye of the storm by Yvette Essen, Daily Telegraph, 2 June 2008.
It’s dictators who seek to dominate the world, not democrats. And not quite a ‘newsflash’ for Stuart Fraser: after the crash and political fall out from that, you’ve left the City of London weaker than when you headed this reprehensible anti-democratic institution. From here on in it looks like things can only get worse for this rotten borough.
Stuart Fraser from the City of London Corporation – loves money, hates democracy!
Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, by Nicholas Shaxson (Vintage Books, London 2012).
Who runs our countries: us, or global finance by Nicholas Shaxson: http://treasureislands.org/who-runs-our-countries-us-or-global-finance/
Stuart Fraser will leave his position as policy chairman for the City of London Corporation in the spring to experience the historic events scheduled for London in 2012 by Sarah Krouse: https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/stuart-fraser-to-step-down-from-city-of-london-corporation-post-20111111
The most important Londoner you’ve never heard of by Sophie Hobson: http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/the-most-important-londoner-youve-never-heard-of/211.article
The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest by George Monbiot: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval
The City of London is not above the law. Our elections are free and fair by Stuart Fraser: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/03/city-of-london-elections-not-above-law
The Chairman of the City of London Corporation debates outside Saint Paul’s by Philip Goff: http://taxjustice.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/chairman-of-city-of-london-corporation.html
Stuart Fraser keeps a cool head in the eye of the storm by Yvette Essen: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/2790939/Stuart-Fraser-keeps-a-cool-head-in-the-eye-of-the-storm.html
Stuart Fraser on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Fraser_%28politician%29