Aldersgate Election of Helen Fentimen An Utter Farce

It bears repeating that every election in the City of London is an utter farce, since the electorate is so small the entire process is very easily rigged. Yesterday (13 November 2019) Helen Fentimen won an Aldersgate election to the common council for Labour – the only party standing, the rest were ‘independents’. The results were as follows:

BAKTH, Shahnan Rajib – Independent – 24 votes
BURLEIGH, Ian Bernard – Independent – 137 votes
CLIFFORD, Paul Martin – Independent – 38 votes
FENTIMEN, Helen Lesley – Labour Party – 260 votes (E)
THOMAS, Heather Irene – Independent – 93 votes

Total spoilt votes – 2
Number of ballot papers verified and counted – 554
Turnout – 34.38%
Information taken from City of London voting/elections page.

With an electorate of around sixteen hundred, Aldgersgate is a huge ward by City of London standards, since some are a third or less of its size. Given both business votes and that top ‘elected’ posts at the council are disproportionately bagged by members of the men-only Guildhall Lodge 3116, the undersized electorate isn’t the only reason democratic reform is urgently required in this rotten borough.  A preview of yesterday’s Aldersgate vote on the Britain Elects site made the following observations:

Aldersgate Street and the surrounding area was devastated by enemy bombing in the Second World War, leaving an open space which the City Corporation eventually filled with the modernist Barbican housing estate. This was not social housing, instead being let by the City at commercial rates to professionals. We can see this in the census return for the City as a whole, which in 2011 had a population of 7,375: if the City was a single ward (and it has the population of one), it would be number 1 in England and Wales for the the ONS “higher management” employment category (35%) and number 3 for the proportion of adults with a degree or equivalent qualification (68%). Around a quarter of those 7,375 people live in Aldersgate ward, which is the western half of the Barbican estate and is one of the City’s “residential” wards.

So, how do these people vote? Rather difficult to tell, is the answer to that. In the 2016 London Assembly elections, Zac Goldsmith beat Sadiq Khan 40-38 across the City of London, while the London Members ballot gave 36% to the Conservatives, 29% to Labour and 10% each to the Lib Dems and Greens. Unlike most GLA voting figures quoted by this column, these figures include postal votes (which does make a difference: Khan carried the on-the-day votes in the City but Goldsmith had a big lead in the postals). The EU referendum a month later saw the City return a 75% Remain vote. In a rare case of European Parliament results being available at what’s effectively ward level, we can also look at what happened in the City on 23 May this year: this gives a completely different picture, with 41% for the Liberal Democrats, 16% for the Brexit Party, 15% for the Greens and 11% for Labour. You can see what’s attracted Labour to Lib Dem defector Chuka Umunna to seek re-election to Parliament here, rather than in his former Streatham constituency. At parliamentary level the Cities of London and Westminster is normally a safe Tory seat that doesn’t attract much comment; however with Labour having made it marginal in 2017 and with the retirement of Tory MP Mark Field, things look interesting in the Two Cities this time.

What effect will this have on the by-election? Very little. City Corporation elections are generally non-partisan affairs and Labour is the only organised political party that contests them. The last City elections were in March 2017, when Aldersgate ward had six independent candidates and one Labour candidate nominated; since there were seven seats available, they were all declared elected without further ado.

Defending for Labour is Helen Fentiman, a magistrate, school governor, and former Chief Nurse and NHS chief executive. She is opposed by four independent candidates: Shahnan Bakth, Ian Burleigh, Paul Clifford and Heather Thomas. All five candidates give addresses on the Barbican estate.

Aldersgate by Andrew Teale: https://web.archive.org/web/20191114214121/http://britainelects.com/2019/11/13/preview-13-nov-2019/

It isn’t surprising that Fentiman won because she was candidate most strongly supporting the resident view on major local issues (matters that are as hot in neighbouring Cripplegate as in Aldersgate ward). Viz: pollution (https://web.archive.org/web/20191114215112/http://helenfentimen.city/air-quality/) and support for ongoing campaigns against the expansion of the City of London School for Girls (https://web.archive.org/web/20191114215317/http://helenfentimen.city/city-of-london-girls-school/) and the gagging of the 20% of local councillors who represents residents (as opposed to the 80% of councillors elected by business votes to represent the interests of the financial and legal industries – see https://web.archive.org/web/20191114215450/http://helenfentimen.city/a-strong-voice/). It’s a shame Fentiman didn’t list the democratic reform of the City of London in the issues she was campaigning on. Likewise we found the statement that subsequently went up on Fentiman’s website about this election victory (https://web.archive.org/web/20191114220402/http://helenfentimen.city/) and appeared in Labour List to be utter spin, since it emphasised her high vote percentage without addressing the tiny electorate or vote total (260 for Labour):

Labour has won a council by-election in a ward within the key marginal seat of Two Cities – receiving 47% of the vote just four weeks ahead of the general election.

Labour’s Helen Fentimen won the ward of Aldersgate on the City’s Common Council in a poll on Wednesday. Labour retained the seat following the resignation of councillor Richard Crossan in September.

Fentimen was opposed by four Independent candidates – Shahnan Bakth, Ian Burleigh, Paul Clifford and Heather Thomas. Labour is the only organised political party that contests City Corporation elections, as noted by Britain Elects.

Commenting on the result, newly elected councillor Fentiman said: “I was always hopeful of winning the by-election, but to win 47% of the vote is far beyond our expectations.

“It’s a huge vote of confidence in what the Labour members of the council have already been able to do in the City, and I’m looking forward to joining them.”

Fentimen is a resident of the ward, and a former chief executive of an NHS trust. The magistrate and school governor was given an OBE for services to healthcare in 2006.

She added: “This also gives all of us in Labour in this area a huge confidence boost with a general election just a month away. Labour has won here today, and it can do it again on December 12th.

“We have a brilliant candidate for Cities of London and Westminster in Gordon Nardell, and I hope our Labour councillors in the City will soon be working with him as our MP.”

Labour currently holds six seats on the City’s Common Council, having never won a seat in this area before 2014. Aldersgate ward lies within the Cities of London and Westminster parliamentary constituency, one of the key target seats in the upcoming election.

Cities of London and Westminster was narrowly held by the Tories in the 2017 general election, with Conservative incumbent Mark Field securing a majority of 3,148 votes. Labour’s Ibrahim Dogus, now the candidate for West Bromwich East, came a close second.

Gordon Nardell has been selected as the new candidate contesting the seat for Labour. He will be up against new Tory candidate Nickie Aiken, as well as former Labour MP Chuka Umunna who is standing for the Lib Dems.

Labour wins by-election in key marginal with 47% vote share by Elliot Chappell, Labour List, 14th November 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20191114220800/https://labourlist.org/2019/11/labour-wins-by-election-in-key-marginal-with-47-vote-share/

Labour has yet to convince us either locally or nationally that they’re prepared to stand up to the City of London, even if the square mile’s ‘grandees’ don’t view them quite as favourably as the Tories. If Labour were serious about taking on the City it seems unlikely they’d be spinning their victory in the Aldersgate election farce as anything other than an illustration of why we need to reform the UK’s last rotten borough. Labour’s self-serving interpretation of this result risks obscuring what is wrong with the City of London and why it needs democratic reform.

Notes.

The header shows Helen Fentiman being warded the ‘freedom’ of the City of London in October 2019, an anti-democratic humiliation anyone who wishes to stand as a councillor in this rotten borough must undergo. Those given this ‘award’ are recipients of an ‘honour’ also doled out to paedophiles and human rights abusers.

5 thoughts on “Aldersgate Election of Helen Fentimen An Utter Farce

  1. An awful lot of effort and hard work went into attempting to speak to all the 1600 voters in the Ward. City Corporation’s Electoral Services Team also worked hard to ensure the election took place in accordance with election law. The staff of Ironmongers’ Hall played their part in the smooth running of the election as did the other candidates. Therefore to describe this election as a farce is both disingenuous and, quite frankly, insulting to all concerned.

    Labour’s manifesto for the General Election will be published on Saturday and we will all know then what plans it has for the City of London. Gordon Nardell will be attending a hustings in the City and will, no doubt, be happy to state his own views on the City. In the meantime, Helen will join her fellow Labour Common Councillors and those independents who are also Labour Party Members, as well as like minded independents in continuing the good achievements they have had over the last 30 odd months. These include adoption of the London Living Wage by both a city Corporation and its contractors, greater investment in the reduction of homelessness, provision of a mental health facility in Portsoken and a community energy scheme on Middlesex Street Estate.

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    1. While we appreciate many of the things you’ve done, especially around Bernard Morgan House, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. Whether we happen to like any particular councillor who wins in a City election (and some are clearly better than others and implement better policies), this is still a rotten borough and all its elections are a farce – regardless of them conforming to electoral laws and rules that are in desperate need of an overhaul – due both to business votes and under-sized electorates (of course there are other issues with offices elected by common hall). Given how feudal the City is it shouldn’t be difficult for Labour to appear progressive here, but it seems remarkably soft on the City both at local level and nationally.

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      1. Perhaps a little less patronising and more appreciation of what actually does get done in the City wouldn’t go amiss. Of course there’s a lot wrong with democracy both at local and national level but nothing will change without engagement and and nothing will be achieved by shouting from the sidelines.100 seats on Common Council will be up for grabs in March 2021, why not stand for one and help instigate change from within.

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      2. Perhaps I could be an Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, although I don’t currently belong to it – but it would be good to have more parties contesting in the City in order to start shake things up more. Also I do appreciate you put a lot of work into Helen Fentimen’s election, and many others did too… and it seems we can agree the City is in urgent need of democratic reform.

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  2. Yes we can agree that but reform will only come from within. We will have succeeded when the many “independent” Common Councillors who are members of political parties, including one or two who are actually local councillors elsewhere, all stand as party candidates.

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