City of London councillor Tim Hailes received uncritical coverage in two financial press pieces today. Both make him sound progressive by failing to mention that like the majority of those who reach the top of the square mile’s political establishment, he’s a freemason – something he declares on both his own website and his register of interests as a councillor. As we’ve documented elsewhere, since the founding of the Guildhall Lodge 3116 in 1905, two-thirds of those occupying the top City of London council post of lord mayor have belonged to this fraternity, as have huge numbers of those who become aldermanic sheriffs, one job down from the top. There have only ever been two female lord mayors and so the grip of various men only masonic organisations – including livery and other lodges alongside Lodge 3116 – on political power in the City of London is an equality and glass ceiling issue.
Joining Hailes in a bid to sound progressive is top freemason and City councillor Edward Lord, who while on the Standards Committee played a key role in defending the free use of City of London council premises by those men only lodges with a tight grip on political power within this local authority. Taken out of the broader context of their City of London political activities and affiliations, the arguments both these individuals make for equality appear very reasonable; closer examination shows they’re pushing an agenda of paying lip service to diversity and making concessions that are hard to avoid, while attempting to preserve a patriarchal status quo whose main interest is defending the privileges of a super-rich elite. Both appear incapable of pushing beyond their current agendas to a more inclusive vision of equality that is critical of male privilege and class privilege in all their forms – including men only masonry.
One of the City’s ancient trade guilds that does not accept female members is “tainting” the City of London, according to a group of councillors.
The City of London Corporation has 110 associated Livery companies, which were traditionally trade associations and guilds for different crafts.
The groups now perform a variety of functions, often relating to training and education in their respective fields, but retain a heavy social aspect. They also have voting rights for senior City of London positions, such as Lord Mayor, in what is called the Common Hall.
Included among the 110 groups is the Worshipful Company of Bowyers (long-bow makers) which does not allow women to be members.
The Bowyers have been criticised by a group of City of London councillors and aldermen as being retrograde and discriminatory.
Alderman Tim Hailes and councillor Ed Lord spoke out against the group, both individually repeating the phrase: “It’s 2020, not 1820”, while councillor Anne Fairweather also said the group needed to change its ways.
Hailes added: “Leaving aside the principled inclusion and equality issues for one moment there’s also a constitutional question as members of the Livery have a key role in electing the Sheriffs and Lord Mayor.
“By failing to admit women as members they are therefore arguably also undermining the electoral franchise of Common Hall, the body that makes those elections, and that is a real problem.”
One source on the City of London’s Court of Aldermen told City A.M. it was absurd the group still operated like this, but understood the reasons behind it
“I think what happens is that the type of people who want to be in an all-male club can find a place where there is an all-male club,” they said.
“Because of this, they have got a waiting list to be a member, while others have problems with membership.
“They can say they’ve got good financial health and it offers the members what they want – to only be around other males.”
The deputy head of the City’s powerful policy and resources committee, Tom Sleigh, derided the Bowyers, but said they were symptomatic of a larger problem among the Liveries.
Female membership across Liveries is very low for some of the biggest guilds in the traditionally male-dominated groups.
“The Bowyers are tainting the City by association, but at least have the merit of being honest about not admitting women, unlike many livery companies which technically do, but in practice are male clubs,” he said.
“The ancient links between the City Corporation and Livery Companies mean that we are at risk of being damned by association.”
A City of London Corporation spokesperson said it aims to be a leader in diversity in the Square Mile.
“That is why we aspire to enhance the diversity of candidates standing for the 2021 election to 30% female and 15% from BAME backgrounds.
“We have also introduced a voluntary Diversity Charter for elected Members to sign up to so they can publicly show commitment and help drive the debate internally on diversity and inclusion.”
The Worshipful Company of Bowyers declined the opportunity to comment.
City of London councillors call for associate guild to admit female members by Stefan Boscia, City AM, 7 January 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20200107214222/https://www.cityam.com/exclusive-city-of-london-councillors-call-for-associate-guild-to-admit-female-members/
While the livery companies rubber stamp the decisions of the aldermen when it comes to ‘electing’ the lord mayor and sheriffs, those guild members doing this ‘voting’ are themselves unelected and when democratic reform is introduced into the City of London, common hall will be abolished, as well as the court of aldermen. Hailes’s talk of the ‘electoral franchise of Common Hall’ glosses over the fundamentally undemocratic nature of this assembly and while gender diversity very much needs to be addressed, in itself it would not make this or any other part of the City of London council democratic. In terms of marginalisation and social exclusion there are many intersectional issues that require addressing with regard to this local authority but it is also undemocratic in other ways. We’ve already made it clear we want the role of lord mayor scrapped, since London doesn’t need two mayors and clearly those who favour democracy will want to retain the mayor who is actually elected by the residents of London, currently Sadiq Khan.
Moving on to today’s Financial Times there is coverage of the office of lord mayor and the fact that Hailes will not take up this post next year as many – including us – had expected. We’ve already pointed out the lord mayor is elected by an unrepresentative clique to front the vested interests of corporations and the super-rich. The discriminatory nature of the job interview Hailes was put through for this post as reported by the FT is appalling and yet it is only one of many things wrong with the office. The lord mayor of London is a feudal hangover that should have been abolished centuries ago.
Interview questions asked of a gay candidate for lord mayor of London have been sharply criticised in a row over the process in which a handful of City grandees determine who holds the 830-year-old title.
Tim Hailes, who would have been the first openly gay person to hold the ceremonial office, was asked in 2018 how he would prevent the one-year mayoralty being “hijacked” by the gay community if he was awarded the post, according to two people familiar with the process. Mr Hailes did not respond to requests for comment.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “It is difficult to see why such a question was necessary and it could open the interviewer up to a potential discrimination claim.
“Would they have asked the same of anyone from other protected groups? All the evidence shows that a diverse workforce leads to better decisions and any employer ought to be mindful not to alienate a large section of talented people by asking irrelevant questions.”
Mr Hailes was also asked in the interview how he would make up for his lack of a “consort”, the partner (not always spouse) who accompanies a lord mayor during official engagements. Although Mr Hailes passed the interview, he deferred his candidacy after concerns were raised by the interview panel about his ability to commit to the role alongside a new company directorship. He may still seek to become lord mayor in future.
The lord mayor of the City of London, which is separate from the directly elected mayor of London, is an unpaid post promoting the interests of the UK financial services industry rather than an administrative role. But it is highly prestigious, coming with the palatial residence of Mansion House at the centre of London’s financial district. Past holders of the office have usually been awarded a knighthood.
Concerns about the opaque selection process for the post, which is controlled by an exclusive committee of the City of London Corporation’s Court of Aldermen, have prompted an external review led by headhunters Saxton Bampfylde. City AM newspaper first reported the review.
“The whole process is not very satisfactory. There are lots of nods and winks” before the formal interviews start, said one person with knowledge of the process.
Recommendations from the review were put to the City’s 25 aldermen at a meeting earlier this month, but are not expected to be made public.
Candidates for lord mayor, who must be drawn from the aldermen, must pass a multiyear appraisal process led by former Dresdner Kleinwort vice-chairman Alan Yarrow, who asked the questions of Mr Hailes. Sir Alan did not respond to a request for comment.
City grandees including Roger Carr, the BAE chairman, Elizabeth Corley, the former chief executive of Allianz Global Investors, and Gerry Grimstone, previously chairman of Standard Life, are also on the appraisal panel. Their chosen candidate is then put to a formal vote of the City’s historic livery companies.
The process has led to a succession of heterosexual white male candidates, contributing to the perception that the City is an old boys’ club. There have been more lord mayors drawn from the family of the incumbent, William Russell (five, including him), than there have been female lord mayors (two). Just four of the aldermen are women; at least eight are Freemasons.
Two senior figures within the City of London Corporation criticised the questions asked in Mr Hailes’ interview as outdated and said that they raised concerns about the body’s commitment to equalities legislation. It is unlawful in the UK to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation.
“Questions about sexuality, gender and marital status are completely unacceptable in this era,” said one of the people. Another said the City “has a duty to enshrine equalities law into its people policies, yet this high-profile but secret job interview would suggest it has failed to do so”. There was a “total lack of accountability” in appointing the lord mayor, the second person added.
A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “Any allegation that a mayoral candidate was blocked on the grounds of sexuality is completely untrue and without foundation . . . The City of London Corporation is committed to ensuring there are no barriers to any member of our community standing for the elected office of lord mayor. We aspire to be a leader in diversity and inclusion.”
City grandees under fire over gay candidate’s lord mayor interview. Concerns raised at line of questioning for ceremonial London post by Cat Rutter Pooley and Patrick Jenkins, Financial Times, 7 January 2020. https://www.ft.com/content/9dca167e-1cb9-11ea-97df-cc63de1d73f4
A number of the claims made in these pieces of press reportage simply aren’t credible. For example: “The City of London Corporation is committed to ensuring there are no barriers to any member of our community standing for the elected office of lord mayor. We aspire to be a leader in diversity and inclusion.” Clearly there is no chance of social housing tenants from the Middlesex Street and Golden Lane Estates – both located within the City of London boundaries – becoming lord mayor, since both this office and the council are controlled by undemocratic business votes – giving the financial and legal sectors 80% of elected council seats and pretty much all of common hall, and leaving residents effectively locked out of ‘their own’ council and voiceless as far as representatives on it go (the handful they get to elect have been routinely gagged).
As far as we know, no City of London council tenant has ever become an alderman, let alone a sheriff, and so the path to becoming lord mayor is completely blocked to working class City residents – as it is to the majority of City residents from all classes since election to this office is rigged. You cannot stand for the office of lord mayor without being an alderman and having previously held the office of sheriff, and access to the office of alderman is controlled by an exclusionary clique. Given this, the absurd claims quoted above about the City Corporation aspiring to be ‘a leader in diversity’ demonstrate yet again the City of London lie machine‘s utter disregard for truth, something we’ve learned to expect from the world leader in neo-liberal lobbying – an operation the lord mayor is ‘elected’ to front.