City of London Shows Contempt For Its Residents & Democracy With Covid-19 ‘Civic Leadership’ Claims

This week issue 48 of City Resident plopped through the letter boxes of those who live in the Square Mile. It is a coronavirus special filled with advice that pretty much everyone will have already gleaned from other sources. One thing did stand out for its bare faced cheek, a joint statement from the Lord Mayor of the City of London William Russell and Policy Chair (council boss) Catherine McGuinness. Among the usual banalities our local council endlessly repeats was yet more evidence that rather than being concerned with the residents they were supposedly addressing, the priority for Russell and McGuinness was protecting the interests of the financial and legal industries that do so much harm to City residents, London, the UK and the world:

London will always be one of the world’s leading financial centres, a city of global talent with a highly-skilled workforce and more international HQs than any other European city. The timezone that spans Asia and North America will not change.

Right now – in the middle of a pandemic – the major concern of most residents is their own health and wellbeing and that of their families and neighbours, not the global standing of the City as a major financial centre. As always the City of London council remains tone deaf to the needs of residents, it has never cared about them because 80% of its councillors are elected on undemocratic business votes given to banks and other firms. Residents are ritually invoked in the Russell/McGuinness joint statement but ultimately the message isn’t directed at the local community or even those who work in and visit the City, it is about reassuring those – the super-rich and corporations – who move their money through the Square Mile that their ill gotten gains will remain safe. The screed from Russell and McGuinness concludes:

This City has come through difficult times in the past but there are good reasons for a quiet confidence. The City of London Corporation has always played its part in dealing with past crises. Working together, we will do so again.

Rather than playing ‘its part in dealing with past crises’, the City had a huge role in creating – for example – the 2008 financial crisis, and its resistance to reform after the inadequacies of the financial system were viciously exposed a dozen years ago will contribute massively to making the consequences of the current pandemic far worse than they needed to be. As for the rhetoric about ‘working together’, with whom? For us it is clear the Corporation is working with and leading a global elite in maintaining and extending their grip on wealth and privilege, at the expense of an overwhelming majority worldwide, including most local people in the City of London (where among other things some of the worst child poverty in the UK is to be found).
City Resident #48, page 2. The obnoxious Covid-19 statement from William Russell & Catherine McGuinness, the leaders of the City of London Corporation, an unashamedly feudal council lording it over the last rotten borough in the UK.

As if this wasn’t enough, it was announced yesterday that Russell’s term as Lord Mayor, and the terms of the current to sheriffs, will be doubled to provide ‘continuity’ and ‘civic leadership’ (a particularly outrageous whopper even for the City of London lie machine) through the current pandemic:

William Russell, the 692nd Lord Mayor of the City of London, will serve an additional year in office to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

The Lord Mayor was initially due to step down in November 2020 after completing a one-year term, following the scheduled election of his successor this September. He will now remain in office until November 2021, subject to being formally re-elected later this year.

The Lord Mayor acts as a global ambassador for the City, leading business delegations overseas to key international markets on behalf of the UK’s financial and professional services industry. He has also been strengthening ties with other cities across the country as part of the City of London Corporation’s UK strategy, which aims to increase inward investment and build awareness of how London can act as a global gateway for local firms to export their products and services.

The role involves meeting government representatives from around the world, alongside business leaders and policy makers both at home and abroad. Lord Mayor Russell has been continuing his domestic and international business engagement virtually during the current UK lockdown.

Lord Mayor William Russell said:

“In light of the exceptional circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, this extension will provide stability and continuity of civic leadership through the current crisis and the eventual recovery phase.

“We must focus all our efforts on supporting the City, London and the UK during these tough times. Everybody should continue to work together with the same spirit of community, resilience and support that has seen us through difficult times in the past.

“The City of London Corporation has taken urgent action to support businesses, workers and residents during the current crisis. We will continue to review what further support we can provide, while also laying the foundations for our eventual recovery by continuing work on key long-term challenges and opportunities such as fintech and green finance.

“The fundamental strengths of London will help us to recover and rebuild, as we have done before.”

The Sheriffs of the City of London, Alderman Professor Michael Mainelli and Christopher Hayward, will also serve an extra year term until September 2021. The Sheriffs and the Senior Alderman support the Lord Mayor in his or her civic duties while also helping to promote the UK as a place to do business.

City’s civic leadership to provide continuity through COVID-19 pandemic, City of London press release, 17 April 2020. For an archived version see:

Civic is usually understood to mean relating to a city or municipality, whereas this City of London sleight of hand statement is mostly about the global financial industry. Note that in Russell’s list of who his council is taking urgent action to support residents come last after businesses (i.e. banks) and ‘workers’ (i.e. bankers). The City council doesn’t support its residents, it ignores them, treats them with disdain and pisses on them from a great height (see below).

Russell is the fifth member of his family to hold the top council job of Lord Mayor in just over 100 years, this nepotism will be compounded when he gets his second term. The ‘election’ in which he gained office was rigged and the one that will allow him to remain in post will be too. The stunt of extending Russell’s term will serve to obscure the homophobia that at least in part resulted in Tim Hailes deciding not to take up the post of Lord Mayor – which was his for the taking in this year’s rigged election. This bigotry and the undemocratic nature of City elections haven’t been – and won’t be – seriously addressed by the current council. Returning to Russell whose home is in Cambridgeshire, like many councillors he lives a long way out of the City and is therefore totally unsuited to dealing with the local issues thrown up by the current pandemic. These require the attention of people who actually live in the City and understand the problems its residents face.

One councillor who does live in the City – and who is very visible locally through her work co-ordinating the City’s resident run Covid-19 mutual aid hub – is Sue Pearson. Pearson is critical of the City establishment’s response to the current pandemic – headed by council leaders Russell and McGuinness – and published a further blog on the subject today. We’ve already covered a previous post by Pearson on the same subject in which she’s said the City has done little to deal with the current pandemic and left residents to organise mutual aid pretty much on their own. Her current blog deals with how lockdown related issues that really matter to City residents were addressed during a video conferenced council Policy and Resources Committee Meeting on 16 April 2020:

The meeting lasted two hours. The time spent by the Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee (Catherine McGuinness) on the non-essential construction work on COLPAI was two minutes. She said that… (Pearson lists a series of unconvincing excuses concluding with) “I am sorry for people who are unhappy about that” (meaning the resumption of non-essential Corporation building work a few feet away from resident’s flats during lockdown – with people having to work and home school their kids through the associated noise and pollution. Pearson goes on to observe):

the “people” deserve a council that listens and acts for its residents, not against them.

In case you wonder how the committee spent the other 118 minutes of the meeting, here are examples of other topics its members discussed:

They spent four times longer than they did on COPLAI on questions like committee structure: what happens if the chair of a committee resigns, the deputy chair of that committee then becomes the chair, but that deputy chair is already the chair of another committee, a member cannot be a chair of two committees … Questions like this, of no relevance to any of the Corporations’ voters, actively engaged members’ interest, and several of them spoke. By contrast, and with a single exception, members were silent in response to the Policy Chair’s statement on non-essential construction work.

The committee received a 23 page report about the elections of the Sheriffs and Lord Mayor due to take place this year. The nature of these elections is explained elsewhere on this website. More interest was shown by members in this matter than in the welfare of the voters on Golden Lane estate.

My message to residents is that we shouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The Corporation’s contractor ISg has already breached the government guidance on social distancing after it started work again on the site, as shown in the photo above (below on this reposting). Let’s keep up the pressure on it and the Corporation to do the right thing, which is to cease work until the lockdown ends. The Corporation may be a Goliath, but we know what became of him…

City Corporation Fails To Show Leadership In Crisis by Sue Pearson, Golden Lane Residents Association website, 18 April 2020. Read the full post here:

The COLPAI school building is now level with, workers within virus transmission distance of, a communal refuse chute at Hatfield House. Portaloos are in close proximity to Basterfield House. Both buildings contain elderly and vulnerable residents who are understandably frightened…
Above the COLPAI site where it isn’t possible to maintain social distancing during non-essential 
construction. The header to this post shows Lord Mayor of London William Russell.

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