In a couple of recent posts Reclaim has looked at how the liberal press has failed to get the full story when covering news that ought to shame the City of London council, here we’re going to use a Londoner’s Diary piece from the Evening Standard to illustrate how right-wing media soft-peddles on this notoriously undemocratic local authority. Curiously the item in question could very easily have been put together from information and commentary on this site and discussions of freemasonry at Barbican Talk, which was linked to from our pages (and vice versa):
There are more Freemasons than women on the City of London Corporation’s Court of Common Council. Documents have highlighted a diversity problem, as well as drawing attention to the potentially disproportionate inﬂuence of the Freemasons.
An email chain leaked to The Londoner shows that the 125-strong council contains 24 women and 32 members of the Freemasons. The revelation raises questions over whether it’s appropriate for the group, which does not admit women, to maintain such a strong presence. The Court of Common Council is the primary decision-making body of the corporation, responsible for representing the City’s diverse workforce and more than 9,000 citizens.
The inﬂuence of Freemasons on the council has been under scrutiny for some time. Minutes for a City Standards Committee meeting in 2016 state that “a member commented that, whilst he was nervous speaking on the subject, he questioned whether Freemasonry could lead to political interference or unconscious bias”.
There were also suggestions that the Freemasons, whose headquarters are found in Covent Garden, received reduced rates for the use of City property. In the minutes of a separate Standards Committee meeting, when questioned about “the use of the Guildhall Crypts by the Masonic lodges”, it is recorded that “the Town Clerk added that she had been informed that the lodges received preferential rates on the basis that they had clear City of London/Member links”.
“It is not appropriate that an all-male society is allowed preferential use of a public building,” Labour councillor for Farringdon Within Thomas Anderson told us yesterday when asked for comment. “I am at a loss to why the Freemasons are allowed special treatment.” A representative of City of London Corporation denied that the suggestions reﬂected policy.
Approached by The Londoner, the United Grand Lodge of England responded: “Freemasonry teaches its members a system of values, good conduct and service to others. We understand that The Guildhall Lodge is charged on the same basis as the Guildhall Historical Society and many other members’ groups unconnected with Freemasonry. If those who made these allegations had spoken to the many Freemasons (both male and female) amongst their own number, but who are often afraid to be open about their membership because of prejudiced and archaic views about Freemasonry, they would have realised that Freemasonry is a force for good in society.”
More Masons than women on council by Londoner’s Diary, Evening Standard, 21 September 2018.
Reclaim been concerned about the way in which freemasonry impacts upon diversity within the City of London Corporation for some time but our focus has been more on its top post since this illustrates the issue very starkly. To date there have been 690 Lord Mayors of London – the head of the City of London council – but only two of them have been women.* Both these women served a single term, earlier male Lord Mayors often served multiple terms. It’s hard to say exactly how many of the 688 Lord Mayors to date who were men were also freemasons – but since its founding in 1905 it appears 78 Lord Mayor’s have been members of the Guildhall Lodge 3116 (a masonic group affiliated to the United Grand Lodge of England).** It seems likely that between 1717 and 1905 – prior to the founding of the Guildhall Lodge – there were Lord Mayors who were freemasons; and it is possible there were masonic Lord Mayors before the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) in 1717. It may also be the case that there have been Lord Mayors since 1905 who were freemasons without being members of the Guildhall Lodge.
If we focus on the period from 1905 we discover that 69.03% of Lord Mayors have belonged to the Guildhall Lodge, whereas 1.77% of Lord Mayors since 1905 have been women. The percentage of women who have been Lord Mayors since the office was established in 1189 is 0.29; in terms of the number of years the office has existed, women have held it for 0.24% of that time. This gender disparity is shocking but since the Guildhall Lodge doesn’t admit women*** and those who belong to it are more likely to become the Lord Mayor of London than those who don’t, it is hardly surprising that there is a glass ceiling on the top job in the City of London. Clearly women deserve equal representation and as we’ve said before either they should be admitted to the Guildhall Lodge, or it should be banned from using council premises because it plays a major role in perpetrating a patriarchal culture at this local authority. The extraordinary success of freemasons in landing the top post of Lord Mayor of London is all the more peculiar given that membership of their organisation runs at well under 1% of the population of England.****
Moving on – as we’ve quoted Edward Lord stating in an earlier post – at the end of 2014 a requirement for City of London councillors to declare freemasonic membership was added to their Code of Conduct. Despite this it can be difficult for non-masons to identify all those belonging to the brotherhood on the council due at least in part to the abbreviated way in which some members compile their register of interests. These difficulties are illustrated by the different and increasingly complex manoeuvres those discussing the searchable database of City of London councillor interests at Barbican Talk had to undertake in order to identify freemasons on the council.
As indicated above, we suspect The Standard’s claim that ‘32’ City of London councillors are freemasons may be based on what can be found about these matters at Barbican Talk and this site. In a recent piece we demonstrated that Giles Shilson – who did not come up in the Barbican Talk discussion or in the related searches prior to our post – is a mason. Shilson did not appear in these earlier mappings because of the opaque way in which he’s compiled his register of interests. The number of masons on the City of London Corporation could be higher than ‘32’ if there are further councillors whose declarations of interest are as lacking in transparency as those of Shilson or the former Lord Mayor Sir Michael Bear, who retired as a councillor at the end of last year.
City of London councillor Chris Hayward (front left) as cover boy on the freemason’s magazine Arena: seen here celebrating 300 years since the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England at his local authority’s HQ The Guildhall.*****
The City of London council is made up of three assemblies – which from lowest to highest are Common Hall, Court of Common Council and Court of Aldermen. The first is not of huge significance but anyone who has been a member of a livery company – the liveries are licenced by the aldermen – for over a year is entitled to attend it and have some say in who lands various positions including mayor and the two sheriffs. As we’ve previously detailed there are livery lodges attached to many of the livery companies, and this will add hundreds more masons to the ‘32’ who currently sit on the council – albeit at a lowly position. Most common councillors and aldermen joined livery companies before achieving their higher offices and remain members of them. To become Lord Mayor one must first be an alderman and from there achieve the office of aldermanic sheriff, so it is safe to assume freemasons are also massively over-represented in the latter role. Masons are also hugely over-represented among deputies on the Court of Common Council. The Standard is less than clear about the difference between The Court of Common Council and The Court of Aldermen and whoever wrote the piece may or may not understand the distinction; the former has 100 members and the latter 25, the Londoner’s Diary figure of ‘32’ freemasons holding elected positions on this council would seem to refer to both common councillors and aldermen.
The Standard gives their source as an email chain; we’ve seen similar documents discussing material posted on this site and while we have run the material this freesheet is addressing – right down to quoting from the same council committee meeting minutes about freemasonry – others are likely to have researched it independently of us. We appreciated the shift of emphasis someone made onto the disparity between masonic and women councillors at our local authority, something that appears to be original to The Standard’s immediate source. Regardless of the ultimate origin(s) of the story, The Standard hasn’t produced a very rigorous piece of journalism. We have previously quoted council minutes that state certain masonic lodges not only receive discounts but in some instances are allowed to use council premises for free. The Standard is soft-peddling when it says: “There were also suggestions that the Freemasons… received reduced rates for the use of City property.” Likewise the paper makes an error when it describes Thomas Anderson as a Labour councillor, he sits as an independent on the City of London council although his declaration of interests reveal him to be a member of the Labour Party. We’re not entirely convinced by their numbers either.
As for a ‘representative of City of London Corporation’ denying ‘that the suggestions reﬂected policy’, this is something The Standard could have unpacked. The statement suggests three possibilities to us: 1) there is a disjunction between the City of London’s practice and policy; 2) there is an official policy for the public that isn’t adhered to in practice in the interests of furthering opaque and semi-secret agendas; 3) the City representative wasn’t being entirely truthful. Perhaps the reality of the matter lies in some mix of these possibilities. The response of the United Grand Lodge of England strikes us as disingenuous too: “We understand that The Guildhall Lodge is charged on the same basis as the Guildhall Historical Society and many other members’ groups unconnected with Freemasonry.” The Guildhall Lodge is charged for the use of some facilities and gets others for free, as we believe is the case with other groups mentioned. However, as far as we know, these other groups do not exclude women and their members are not disproportionally represented at the highest levels of the City of London council in the way the Guildhall Lodge is.
UGLE’s other claims don’t stand up to scrutiny either – even if The Standard doesn’t question them: “If those who made these allegations had spoken to the many Freemasons (both male and female) amongst their own number, but who are often afraid to be open about their membership because of prejudiced and archaic views about Freemasonry, they would have realised that Freemasonry is a force for good in society.” The matters raised here are not so much allegations as facts; or do the masons wish to claim that the relevant City of London committee minutes are falsified, and even less plausibly that there aren’t more freemasons than women in the chambers of this local authority? Given The Standard claims to have acquired ‘leaked’ material, it seems unlikely it revealed its sources to UGLE and if that organisation isn’t in possession of this information, the implication of what it says is that masons are everywhere – which is both pathetic and a mirror image of the absurd beliefs held by the nutjobs who believe in conspiracy theories. Today masonry is concentrated in socially and politically conservative sectors of English society; aside from the City of London council this might include the police, the army and the legal profession. Given that masons are supposed to believe in a monotheistic ‘Great Architect’, it would seem unlikely many are to be found hanging around Hindu temples. Masons clearly aren’t ‘everywhere’ even if some of them are deluded enough to believe their cosplay re-enacts the secrets of the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians, amongst others.
As we’ve made clear we don’t know exactly where The Standard’s information came from but it is possible it originated on this site and at Barbican Talk. I doubt there are any freemasons among us but I have visited the United Grand Lodge in Covent Garden and masonic headquarters in other countries. Speaking to masons on these trips did not convince me that their activities are a force for good in society; rather I came to view the individuals I encountered as belonging to a self-help society. If these men get a kick out of what they do when they pull out their dressing up boxes that really doesn’t bother me, but I still believe UGLE should be stripped of its charitable status because so much of its supposedly charitable activity is actually self-interested.
In the instance of the City of London, the disproportionate number of members of the Guildhall Lodge who land top jobs at this local authority contributes to its conservatism and thereby enables it to continue ploughing money from it’s sovereign wealth fund – City’s Cash – into lobbying for neo-liberal causes. This is blatantly political and provides another plank to the argument that UGLE – to which the Guildhall Lodge and other lodges operating in the City of London are affiliated – should be stripped of its charitable status. Likewise, given the number of top City of London officials who are members of what in practice are all male groups, until these conservative cosplay societies achieve an equal balance of female members, masonic lodges should be barred from all City of London council premises in the interests of diversity and putting an end to the glass ceiling that blights this local authority. Freemasonry as it currently exists is a blockage to equal opportunities – and women’s lodges do nothing to redress this because it is the all male fraternities that exert undue influence over who attains positions such as that of Lord Mayor of London.
These cosplay fanatics do not appear to belong to the United Grand Lodge of England….
*List of Lord Mayors of London showing only two women – Mary Donaldson (1983) and Fiona Woolf (2013): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lord_mayors_of_London
**Paviors Lodge 5646 on the Guildhall Lodge and how many Lord Mayors have belonged to it at Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20180614000430/https://www.paviorslodge.org.uk/home/affiliations/
The webpage of the London Metropolitan Archives is less precise in providing the number of Lord Mayors who have been members of the Guildhall Lodge since 1905 but states this is ‘over 70’ – this archive material gels with what freemasonic sources have to say on the matter: https://search.lma.gov.uk/scripts/mwimain.dll/144/LMA_OPAC/web_detail/REFD+CLC~2F109?SESSIONSEARCH
***A few months ago the United Grand Lodge of England announced that having reviewed the law it was obliged to allow trans women who’d become freemasons as men to remain members. We doubt that this will have much – if any – impact on the gender make-up of the Guildhall Lodge.
***On Paul M. Bessel’s website it’s claimed that the percentage of the population of England who are freemasons is 0.7%. This strikes us as a massive inflation of the actual figure because it underestimates the English population and overestimates freemasonic membership; based on the statistics Bessel provides it is also clear he’s rounded up 0.68 to 0.7%. Bessel gives the English population as 52,428,000 but the latest official figures (2017 mid-year estimate released 28 June 2018) state it to be 55,619,400. Likewise Bessel claims English freemasonic membership stands at 358,214. We’ve more usually seen United Grand Lodge of England membership estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000. We very much doubt that irregular lodges unaffiliated to UGLE and women’s lodges could take the number anywhere close to Bessel’s figure, and wonder if he’s somehow counting a good number of individuals more than once since it is not uncommon for masons to belong to a number of different lodges. We’d see 200,000 as a generous ballpark figure for all masons in England and from this would conclude that about 0.36% of the population in this geographical area are freemasons. Earlier this year the BBC reported: “There are about 4,700 female Freemasons in the UK and 200,000 male Freemasons in England and Wales with more under the Grand Lodge of Scotland.” Bessel’s homepage states: ‘Please note that I no longer am updating the webpages about Freemasonry. I still maintain my memberships but otherwise I am not active.” Given this, his population statistics may have been correct at the time he made his calculation but his freemasonic membership figure still strikes us as a massive overestimate. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20180528052015/http://bessel.org/intstats.htm
And for BBC coverage of freemasonry with membership figures (Freemasons explain the rituals and benefits of membership by Hamish Mackay, BBC News Online, 28 February 2018: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43005770
*****Page 11 of issue 30 of Arena (Autumn 2017 – a Metropolitan Grand Lodge magazine) reveals just how connected to the City of London this Guildhall celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England was: “Metropolitan Grand Master, Sir Michael Snyder hosted the celebrations with honoured guest the Lord Mayor Locum Tenens, Sir Roger Gifford, London’s 685th Lord Mayor… A presentation was made to Bro Michael on behalf of the City Livery Lodges, of a limited edition Peter Blake print, suitably numbered 1717… ” Snyder and Gifford are both current City of London councillors – see our list below of Corporation councillors who are also freemasons.
Searchable database of City of London Aldermen and Common Councillors’ interests: https://city-of-london-councillors.now.sh
Discussion of searchable database of City of London councillor interests (including freemasonry) on Barbican Talk: https://www.barbicantalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=17711
List of current City of London councillors who appear to be freemasons on the basis of their declarations of interest: Tim Hailes, Jamie Clark, John Petrie, Matthew Richardson, Shravan Jashvantrai Joshi, Simon D’Olier Duckworth, Oliver Lodge, Keith Bottomley, Christopher Hayward, Kevin Everett, Ian Luder, Michael Hudson, Nicholas Bensted-Smith, Sir Michael Snyder, Sir Roger Gifford, John Tomlinson, Stephen Quilter, Henry Pollard, Mark Wheatley, Christopher Hill, Richard Regan, Edward Lord, Gregory Jones, John Chapman, Sir David Wootton, Henry Jones, James Tumbridge, Roger Chadwick, Sir Andrew Parmley, Tom Hoffman, Giles Shilson. Past mason, current councillor: John Garbutt. Recently retired councillor Sir Michael Bear (stepped down as alderman end 2017).