Sue Langley, Aldermen & The City of London’s Rotten Political System

On 12 July 2018 Sue Langley beat incumbent Peter Hewitt to become Aldgate alderman. Langley got 174 votes to Hewitt’s 54. The fact there were only 228 votes for one of 25 councillor seats in the City of London’s upper chamber eloquently illustrates the urgent need for the reform of this local authority’s political system. The electorate in the borough is way too small to sustain its 125 councillors and three assemblies despite undemocratic business votes swelling its rolls. Clearly the council should be cut down in size with both the Court of Alderman and Common Hall abolished; the later includes livery company members who aren’t even elected!

In a TEDx talk viewable on YouTube entitled Anything Is Possible, Aldgate’s new alderman Sue Langley speaks about belief, Father Christmas, her own dad, whiskey and mince pies. Her election has led some to hail it as a victory for diversity since there will be four female ‘aldermen’ once the three aldermen elect are installed. That said, and despite the recent election of Prem Goyal, the Court of Aldermen is still dominated by white men. But regardless of its demographic make up this institution is fundamentally undemocratic since it is sustained on business votes and a tiny electorate. Anything may be possible but is it likely Sue Langley, a non-executive director of insurance firm A.J Gallagher and former director of Lloyd’s of London, will help transform the City of London council into a democratic institution?

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Will Sue Langley bring democracy to the City? Don’t hold your breath.

It shouldn’t need stating there is something badly wrong with electoral process in the City of London when it isn’t uncommon for both aldermen and common councillors to stand unopposed for office. For example, Alan Yarrow has just been returned unopposed as alderman for Bridge Ward. Moving along, on the recent Statement of Persons Nominated that can be downloaded as PDFs from the City of London website prior to elections, the place of residence for the male candidates was included, whereas for the women who actually won – Emma Edhem and Sue Langley – this box was filled with the statement ‘address supplied’. The women candidates’ residential addresses being withheld may well be an indication that they either suffer more harassment or at least fear it more than men standing for election. Of course this is just one of many factors creating a less than level playing field.

It should already be clear that for those who believe in democracy the problems with the office of alderman go way beyond the gendered title and the issue of a lack of diversity. In a previous post we addressed how the City of London council promotes the role of alderman as preparation for becoming aldermanic sheriff and ultimately lord mayor. Until 2013 being a Justice of the Peace was the eligibility criteria for standing for the office of alderman. Today the City of London alderman job description contains the following eligibility criteria:

Aged 21 years or more. British subject. Freeman of the City. At the time of nomination and election is a Justice of the peace or a person is qualified for office of Alderman provided that they are not or have never been convicted of an imprisonable offence (even if they were not actually imprisoned or the conviction has been spent) nor the subject of a debt relief restrictions order or interim debt relief restrictions order, a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order, or a debt relief restrictions undertaking. Alderman Job Description downloaded from City of London website.

So while many more people now potentially qualify to stand for the office of alderman, given the rigged political system in the City of London the majority of these will find it difficult to be nominated or elected. The Bill for an Act of Common Council: Aldermanic Eligibility presented at the Guildhall on 25th April 2013 makes it clear that the City of London wishes to sustain the old boys’ network for which it has long been notorious:

The Working Party agreed that one way to help ensure that candidates with the experience, aptitude and qualities necessary to undertake the role is for Members (both Aldermen and Common Councilmen) and the Livery to be proactive in identifying and encouraging such individuals to come forward. Members are often best placed through their networks and contacts to know people that have a thorough understanding of the City, a willingness to make a commitment to public service and all the qualities necessary to make a good Alderman and potentially a Lord Mayor… Having a dedicated and consistent approach would help ensure that whenever there is a vacancy there are individuals willing to stand for election that Members consider have the qualities to be an Alderman. Bill for an Act of Common Council: Aldermanic Eligibility, 25th April 2013, downloaded from City of London website.

It appears to us that the 2013 aldemanic eligibility changes were introduced not simply because there was a shortage of potential candidates for the office of alderman, but also due to this shortage potentially working to the advantage of a group of radical right political ideologues who rubbed the deeply conservative City status quo the wrong way. This story predates 2013 but reached its culmination then. Exactly when this factional struggle began is hard to pinpoint but it was in motion by 2004 when the Evening Standard reported on personal and political friction between Edward Lord and Michael Snyder, and the former’s ambitions to become Lord Mayor (see the final footnote in this previous post). However the story really heats up with Lord’s sometime flatmate Matthew Richardson entering City politics:

The May elections will shortly be upon us. For most Londoners that means the showdown between Boris and Ken but in the tiny City of London ward, Coleman Street, another fierce battle is brewing.

For 16 years, Sir Robert Finch, the former senior partner at Linklaters and now chairman of property company Liberty, has held sway over the four streets where Dick Whittington began his career. Subsequent to his election, Linklaters controlled 30pc of the vote.

But a recent change in voting rights has diminished the law firm’s influence. Now an upstart young barrister, Matthew Richardson, 27, has decided to challenge Sir Bob for the position of Alderman.

Richardson’s motives are unclear but he has form as a prankster, having impersonated an economics expert on a trip to Beijing. His campaign website lists “magic, especially sponge magic” among his hobbies and, unheard of in City elections, he is offering policies such as cutting crime and improving recycling.

I hear that Finch, a former Lord Mayor and the Establishment’s choice, is none too pleased by the competition, inquiring of his rival: “Who are you?” Richardson replied with his name, only to have the question repeated: “No. WHO are you?” Voters will decide.

Forget Boris and Ken, it’s Finch vs Richardson for Alderman by Anonymous, City Diary, Daily Telegraph, 4 April 2008.

The voters in the rigged election chose Finch but Richardson and his friends from the far-right of the Conservative Party would be back. In 2009 Richardson was elected to the Common Council of the City of London in the Coleman Street Ward. The following year a journalist summed up the politics of the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), which Richardson and his friends controlled, with the following words:

(Conservative) Candidates trained by rightwing group that rubbishes NHS, dismisses global warming and backs waterboarding… Last month, the YBF’s executive director, London barrister Matthew Richardson, told a major conference of conservative activists in Washington DC that the NHS is “the biggest waste of money in the UK” and in the same speech, he also described global warming as “a scam”.

Tory madrasa’ preaches radical message to would-be MPs by Robert Booth, The Guardian, 6 March 2010.

In 2011 Richardson quit the Conservative Party and joined UKIP. In 2012 he was elected alderman for Billingsgate; apparently the conservative City establishment were unable to muster a suitable candidate to oppose him. Richardson really caught the interest of the national press for his work with UKIP in 2015.

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City of London councillor Matthew Richardson (left) in his role of top UKIP official with party leader Nigel Farage (right).

The Daily Mirror reported on Richardson’s party brief to bury ‘bad stuff’ about UKIP right at the end of 2014. A few weeks later the Sunday Times ran a piece that resulted in this Richardson splash and the earlier one by The Mirror receiving further attention and circulation as news stories:

Britain has “hundreds of thousands of bigots” and Ukip is proud to stand up for them, one of Nigel Farage’s most senior aides has said.

Matthew Richardson, the party’s secretary, dismissed claims that Ukip candidates with bigoted views would alienate voters, boasting that the party will speak up for those with hardline views.

We speak for bigots, says Ukip PR chief by Tim Shipman, Sunday Times, 25 January 2015.

The ongoing Tory bullying scandal led to renewed interest in Richardson and his Young Britons’ Foundation colleagues. Sometimes this led reporters to address City of London elections and politics:

It is the oldest and perhaps the richest elected government body in the world. An area of London focused at its financial heart, where for centuries power and influence have taken seats alongside white ties and tradition at banquets attended by prime ministers, monarchs and the men who control our money.

But in 2013, a new force emerged in the City of London Corporation, rocking the establishment. Its name was the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), the controversial right-wing activist group known as the “Tory madrasa”. Its alleged leaders were two young friends called Matthew Richardson, now the secretary of Ukip, and Mark Clarke, the disgraced former activist at the centre of the Conservative bullying scandal.

According to multiple sources, including former and current senior figures inside the Corporation, Richardson and Clarke helped to co-ordinate an unprecedented and at times bitter attempt to propel to power a “slate” of right-wing candidates associated with YBF in the City’s 2013 council elections.

Several sources describe the operation as an “attempted coup”. They accuse members of the team, whom they say ran the campaign from YBF’s London headquarters, of using underhand tactics in targeting rivals as well as other candidates who refused to support them….

The alleged YBF slate included Donal Blaney, the founder and chief executive of the group… Other YBF-linked candidates in the City bid included India Brummitt, a long-time associate of Clarke’s, his friend Andre Walker, a former Tory aide, and James McLoughlin, a YBF “graduate” and lobbyist who is son of Patrick McLoughlin MP, the Transport Secretary. Neither Brummitt, Walker nor McLoughlin have responded to questions…

“It was Richardson’s stated plan to flood the common council with YBF members,” one source claims. “Everyone knew what they were doing and that it was part of his plan to become the youngest ever Lord Mayor.” “They treated it as game to win,” another source said. “It was quite extraordinary, and they were open about it.”

“If you can’t get elected to Parliament itself then being elected in the City can provide prestige and power,” an insider said. “It can be a good base on which to operate.”…

The alleged attempt by YBF to win power and favour in the financial centre came in the period between Clarke’s failure to become an MP in south London in 2010, and his re-emergence in 2014 as the director of RoadTrip.

But it dates back further. The BBC’s Newsnight revealed this week that one of Lord Feldman’s current staff had, while he was an activist, complained about Clarke during the 2008 campaign to elect Clarke’s replacement as chair of Conservative Future.

In the complaint, which the party said it had “dealt with”, Clarke was accused of “encouraging bullying” of the rivals of one of his allies, which he denies. That ally was Matthew Richardson, who lost the Conservative Future elections. Three months later, he made his first attempt to enter City politics, but lost his bid to become an alderman.

A year later he was back, and got elected as one of five common councilmen in the Coleman Street ward. Later, in 2012, he became alderman in the ward of Billingsgate after the incumbent John White decided not to contest the election. The Independent has heard claims from several sources that Richardson applied pressure on White to step aside. Richardson strongly denies this, calling it “fanciful”…

Clarke also entered City politics in 2012, winning a by-election in the Farringdon Within ward… Alex Deane, a lobbyist and former YBF board member, was also elected to the council in a 2011 by-election but it was during the 2013 elections that the YBF operation is alleged to have been built up. Deane also denies there was a YBF plot and insists the elections were “fairly fought”.

Clarke stood again in the Farringdon Within ward, while Walker stood with Brummitt in Cheap. It is alleged that the group targeted six wards in all. In one, Clarke and Walker allegedly threatened to “ruin” the chances of a rival candidate’s husband in another ward if she did not step aside. She did. Clarke denies that this happened.

The Independent has also seen evidence of a police complaint against Richardson, who it is alleged arrived with Clarke and Brummitt to threaten a candidate who had refused to support them. According to the complaint, Richardson threatened to “bury” the candidate if he did not comply. Richardson and Clarke strongly deny the allegation. Brummitt did not respond to questions.

In yet another ward, a candidate made a separate complaint to City police about threatening behaviour by Mark Clarke towards Ann Pembroke, a veteran councilman. Police pursued neither complaint.

As the 2013 elections approached, one source says that voters started to become “suspicious” about the organised campaigning of new candidates. In the end, every new YBF-linked candidate lost and Mark Clarke was deposed despite his convincing win the year before. “It was a relief to us all,” one source said.

Conservative bullying scandal: How the ‘Tatler Tory’ Mark Clarke tried to take over the City of London by Simon Usborne, Independent, 11 December 2015.

DonalBlaney,LeftMarkClarkeNext2MatthewRichardsonAllYBF members
Right to left: Donal Blaney, obscured male, Andre Walker, Mark Clarke and Matthew Richardson..

Given its inadequate electorate and the domination of the council by undemocratic business votes, it is not surprising the City of London is perceived as a rotten borough. As we reported, there was an awful lot of smoke and mirrors going on around the Portsoken alderman election at the end of last year. We refrained from including in that post some of the rumours we heard about it. Months later City Matters carried the following report, which may or may not relate to the Portsoken election:

Police are investigating a City election after a candidate was accused of treating to gain support during their campaign.

A spokesperson for the City of London Police confirmed the force is looking into reports of financial favours being traded in return for votes, but withheld the name of the accused.

“We can confirm that we have had concerns reported to us in relation to matters of electoral process.

“We have received an allegation that a candidate has committed an offence of ‘treating’ and this investigation continues.”

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “Any allegation of criminal behaviour is a matter for the police.”

City election candidate investigated for treating by Tom Oxtoby, City Matters, 23 May 2018.

Until the City of London is democratically reformed with the abolition of business votes and a reduction in the number of its councillors to a level commensurate with its residential electorate, its political system will provide an attractive target for those inclined to manipulate voting systems and seeking an easy route to power and influence.

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Sue Langley – “anything is possible”. Even the democratic reform of the City of London!

We will continue to keep an eye on upcoming City of London elections. Later this year Matthew Richardson is scheduled to step down as Billingsgate alderman. An election in that ward might well be of wider interest than the alderman contests we’ve reported in recent posts if Richardson stands for re-election. He is likely to remain a figure of interest to the national press as this report from last year illustrates:

Sources tell Guardian that senior ‘volunteers’ in Ukip before EU referendum were paid by the rightwing US website…. Sources pointed to (Nigel) Farage’s close relationship with (Steve) Bannon and Breitbart, and work that was performed by a lawyer, Matthew Richardson, who served as party secretary for Ukip and was close to Bannon.

In one case, according to people familiar with the matter, Richardson suggested in late 2014 that ahead of the general election Ukip could make use of the services of a US-based electoral data company, Voter Gravity, that would not have to be paid for by Ukip and would be provided as a donation-in-kind.

The offer was declined, according to sources.

Voter Gravity is a company that promises to “turn data into votes”, according to its website. It was founded by conservative US political operative Ned Ryun, who is also a regular contributor to Breitbart.

Ryun, who has been described in media reports as being close to Bannon, told the Guardian that he worked with UKIP in late 2014 and early 2015 to “assist them in the general election” but that it did not work out due to “regulatory problems”.

“We were prepared to work for nothing,” Ryun said, because the company allegedly was trying to gain a foothold into the UK. “I wanted to work on the referendum [too] but nothing materialised there either,” he said.

A spokesman for Farage did not respond to requests for comment. Richardson did not respond to requests for comment by email and phone.

Revealed: Ukip whistleblowers raised fears about Breitbart influence on Brexit by Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins, The Guardian, 30 October 2017.

Pippa Henslowe.

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Sue Langley – “anything could happen in the next half hour”….

Notes.

Women’s advocate Sue Langley elected Aldgate alderman by Jo Davy, City Matters, 12 July 2018: https://www.citymatters.london/gender-diversity-advocate-sue-langley-aldgate/

Sue Langley TEDx talk Anything Is Possible: https://youtu.be/t0Rq-vczT_U

Forget Boris and Ken, it’s Finch vs Richardson for Alderman by Anonymous: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/citydiary/2787464/Forget-Boris-and-Ken-its-Finch-vs-Richardson-for-Alderman.html

Tory madrasa’ preaches radical message to would-be MPs by Robert Booth: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/06/tory-madrasa-young-britons-foundation

Ukip hires City barrister (Matthew Richardson) to keep ‘bad stuff’ hidden, leaked documents reveal by Jack Blanchard, Daily Mirror, 30 December 2014: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ukip-hires-city-barrister-keep-4891249

Ukip general secretary Matthew Richardson boasts: ‘We’re standing up for bigots’ by Vincent Moss and David Hughes, Daily Mirror, 25 January 2015: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ukip-general-secretary-matthew-richardson-5038845

Ukip senior official Matthew Richardson says ‘bigots deserve representation’ and calls NHS the ‘biggest waste of money in the UK’ by Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, The Independent, 25 January 2015: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ukip-senior-official-matthew-richardson-says-bigots-deserve-representation-and-calls-nhs-the-biggest-10000981.html

Conservative bullying scandal: How the ‘Tatler Tory’ Mark Clarke tried to take over the City of London by Simon Usborne: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/conservative-bullying-scandal-how-the-tatler-tory-mark-clarke-tried-to-take-over-the-city-of-london-a6770151.html

City election candidate investigated for treating by Tom Oxtoby: https://www.citymatters.london/city-election-candidates-accused-treating-voters/

Revealed: Ukip whistleblowers raised fears about Breitbart influence on Brexit by Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/30/revealed-ukip-whistleblowers-raised-fears-about-breitbart-influence-on-brexit

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