The City of London is a rotten borough and that will quickly become evident to anyone who looks into its elections. The council attempts but fails to justify business votes on its website with the following words:
Why does the City have a different voting system? The City is the only area in the country in which the number of workers significantly outnumbers the residents and therefore, to be truly representative of its population, offers a vote to City organisations so they can have their say on the way the City is run.
Ward Elections, Anonymous, City of London website.
It is the nature of city centres in the UK and elsewhere to attract commuters in from their peripheries. This is in no way unique to the City of London, various areas in the UK could be carved up to create enclaves in which day time commuters outnumber residents. The business vote gives a massive global voice to financial organisation based both within and outside the City of London. This is at the expense of local residents and billions more around the world who suffer from a lack of financial and market regulation thanks in part to lobbying from the City of London.
What the City of London doesn’t even attempt to address on its website page cited above is the issue of how this local authority’s tiny wards and electorates can and are manipulated and abused. Some of which is evident from the largely uncritical local press coverage of this week’s aldermanic elections which were won by Emma Edhem (Candlewick – who received 50 votes, 7 more than her nearest rival) and Robert Hughes-Penney (Cheap – who received a total of 65 votes, 14 more than his nearest rival):
In the City of London, elected officials who actually live in the Square Mile are a rarity. In the ward of Cheap, it’s almost unheard of – there are only 12 registered residential voters in this business-dominated constituency to begin with…. There are 455 business voters in Cheap (outnumbering residents by nearly 40 to one) and Andrew Marsden believes he is the best placed to represent them as one of the only candidates with a business based in the ward.
Meet the candidates: Cheap Aldermanic election by Jo Davy, City Matters, 20th June 2018.
So in a nutshell this and business votes are what’s wrong with the City of London election system; in Cheap for a grand total of 12 eligible residents and 467 voters there is an alderman plus 3 common councillors (i.e. 4 councillors in total). That’s a councillor for roughly every 117 voters, and if we take away those with undemocratic business votes who are also entitled to vote for someone else where they live, one councillor for every 3 residential voters! The minuscule voter numbers are absurd and the entire system inevitably leads to unfairness. Consider, for example, the need to get 5 people entitled to vote within the ward to nominate anyone who wishes to stand as a candidate in council elections (see page 22 of the 2014 City of London Wardmote Book). Those with political views at odds with the finance industry are unlikely to find 5 people on the register of voters in business vote dominated wards who will nominate them. This is something City figures such as arch-anti-democrat and former leader of this local authority Mark Boleat like to taunt critics with:
Mark Boleat, the Corporation’s policy chairman who was elected unopposed in the ward of Cordwainer, said: “Given there are groups that accuse the City of being undemocratic, the least they could have done is put up a candidate in the chairman of policy’s ward. We didn’t stop anybody.”
City of London opts to preserve status quo by James Pickford, Financial Times, 22 March 2013.
This was post-2013 common council election coverage and is a response to the activities and criticisms of Occupy London and City Reform Group. Needless to say Boleat and his cronies didn’t need to stop their opponents standing as candidates, the business vote system with its lack of electors is already rigged and in the majority of City of London wards it isn’t possible for those who might challenge the City status quo to get nominated, let alone elected.
The paucity of both residents and voters in the City of London (unsurprising given that its geographical area is much smaller than most local authorities), makes the existence two supposedly elected assembles* within the council – Court of Common Council and Court of Alderman – even more absurd. There is a third council assembly, The Common Hall, which is just as undemocratic and made up of Aldermen and members of the City of London Livery Companies. There is also a clear hierarchy with the aldermen standing above the Common Council and Common Hall. Needless to say the role of alderman is not for those aren’t already wealthy:
Andrew Heath-Richardson, director of development at property company Canary Wharf Group, flagged affordability as a barrier to engagement, claiming the robes and formal wear aldermen are required to purchase when taking office can be as much as £25,000.
“How many people can afford to spend that amount of money when carrying out an unpaid voluntary role?,” he said.
‘May the best white man win’: aldermanic elections diversity row by Jo Davy, City Matters, 20 June 2018
The main job of an alderman clearly isn’t to foster diversity but rather to promote the interests of the finance industry and to ascend if possible via the role of aldermanic sheriff to the position of lord mayor; in other words to aspire to becoming the capstone in the City of London’s anti-democratic political system. This is clear enough from the alderman job description that can be downloaded from this local authority’s website:
to support and promote the City of London as a world leader in financial and professional services
to engage widely with the Civic City to broaden their network and support the Lord Mayor
to use experience gained to prepare for progression to the Shrievalty and to Mayoralty. Whilst all Aldermen may seek to become Sheriff and Lord Mayor not all will necessarily succeed.
Job description for individual Aldermen by Anonymous, City of London website.
In short the City of London political system is a feudal hangover that urgently requires democratic reform.
Billingsgate alderman Matthew Richardson and common councillor (2013-2017) Adam Richardson pose with protestant extremist DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior who is holding his certificate after he’d received the Freedom of City of London in 2015. According to Paisley’s website these two brothers proposed him for this ‘honour’. So while the City of London pays lip service to diversity, it also likes to reward diversity’s foes. Paisley Junior is notorious as a homophobe and advocate of extrajudicial killings, so much for democratic process and diversity.
*It is not uncommon for councillors in the City of London to be ‘elected’ unopposed as the Financial Times piece quoted above notes that Mark Boleat was in 2013.
With regard to the Ward of Cheap addressed above, like Cripplegate it is particularly relevant to this blog because parts of it carry the EC1 postcode – although we’re interested in reclaiming all of the City of London (and Islington), not just those parts of them in EC1. Note also that we’ve devoted a post to one of Cheap’s common councillors Alastair Moss.
The City of London website ‘justification’ for business votes is found on a page about its elections and this sham rationalisation is currently highlighted in pink (a download of the City of London Wardmote Book can also be obtained from this page – the 2014 edition is presumably the latest since that is what is currently available): https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/about-the-city/voting-elections/Pages/ward-elections.aspx
Meet the candidates: Cheap Aldermanic election by Jo Davy: https://www.citymatters.london/cheap-aldermanic-election-candidates/
City of London opts to preserve status quo by James Pickford: https://www.ft.com/content/46bf6098-931b-11e2-b3be-00144feabdc0
‘May the best white man win’: aldermanic elections diversity row by Jo Davy: https://www.citymatters.london/cheap-ward-aldermanic-elections-diversity-row/