Well it seems that Occupy London have managed to open up a real can of worms. Not only have they revealed just how closely tied the Church of England is to the financial establishment (which is something for the disestablishmentarians to get their teeth into – and it’s not often you get chance to say that!) but they have also brought mainstream attention to the murky twilight zone that is the City of London.
It’s a funny thing isn’t it, when somehow you can know all aspects surrounding the truth, yet never usefully piece them together into a complete picture; and so it is with the City of London.
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve known that there are actually two cities in “London”, and that the bigger part of London should more properly be referred to as the City of Westminster. This is common knowledge and the kind of information that wins pub quizzes. For nearly as long again, I’ve also known that the City of London (or more commonly “The City”) is a pseudonym for “the banks”; simply because, or so I presumed, the Square Mile is the major business and financial district in the country. But for some reason, during all those years, I’ve never actually thought to put two and two together and look behind the labels. Well now, at last, the beans have been spilled, and thanks to some extent to George Monbiot.
In previous posts, I have been strongly critical of Monbiot with regards to his dismissive response to the catastrophe at Fukushima, and his significant, if presumably accidental part in the subsequent government/industry cover-up. But one should give credit where credit is due, and on this occasion Monbiot must certainly be applauded:
“It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works. This could be about to change. Alongside the Church of England, the Corporation is seeking to evict the protesters camped outside St Paul’s cathedral. The protesters, in turn, have demanded that it submit to national oversight and control.”1
So begins Monbiot’s article from Monday [Oct 31st] which goes on to outline how the City of London is run as a shadowy plutocracy where in over 80% of the electoral wards:
“…the votes are controlled by corporations, mostly banks and other financial companies. The bigger the business, the bigger the vote: a company with 10 workers gets two votes, the biggest employers, 79. It’s not the workers who decide how the votes are cast, but the bosses, who “appoint” the voters.”
A place where even to qualify to become an elected representative of ‘the Corporation’, from ‘common councilmen’ all the way to the post of Lord Mayor, requires that you are a ‘Freeman of the City’, which in turn means that you will need to belong to one of the City livery companies:
“medieval guilds such as the worshipful company of costermongers, cutpurses and safecrackers. [Whilst] to become a sheriff, you must be elected from among the aldermen by the Livery. How do you join a livery company? Don’t even ask.”
Might it involve rolling up a trouser leg and giving a dodgy handshake? Well, that was very definitely the comparison drawn by Labour MP John McDonnell in November 1999, during a parliamentary debate on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, in which he described ‘the backwoodsmen of the City corporation’ as ‘the lodge of lodges’, adding that ‘it is not the last bastion of privilege and freemasonry in this country, but it might be the biggest’.2
Meanwhile, and according to the Corporation’s own website 3 , the official role of the Grand Cyclops… sorry, I mean Lord Mayor, whose position is apparently ‘unpaid and apolitical’, is to:
open up new markets for city businesses, and to open doors at the highest levels for the accompanying business delegation.
In private meetings and speeches, the Lord Mayor expounds the values of liberalisation and expands on those factors which have underpinned London’s success, such as probity and transparency, open markets, corporate governance, Common Law, welcome for skilled people from around the world, support for innovation, proportionate taxation and regulation.
But as Monbiot explains, “this isn’t the half of it”…
The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected.
With suitably arcane title, the remembrancer (try saying it as Vincent Price would) is a gatekeeper; he who prevents the fancy of mere mortals from encroaching upon the auspices of that other world…
The City has exploited this remarkable position to establish itself as a kind of offshore state, a secrecy jurisdiction which controls the network of tax havens housed in the UK’s crown dependencies and overseas territories. This autonomous state within our borders is in a position to launder the ill-gotten cash of oligarchs, kleptocrats, gangsters and drug barons.
Monbiot also proposes a cure for such corruption, saying:
If you’ve ever dithered over the question of whether the UK needs a written constitution, dither no longer. Imagine the clauses required to preserve the status of the Corporation. “The City of London will remain outside the authority of parliament. Domestic and foreign banks will be permitted to vote as if they were human beings, and their votes will outnumber those cast by real people. Its elected officials will be chosen from people deemed acceptable by a group of medieval guilds …”
The Corporation’s privileges could not withstand such public scrutiny. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons why a written constitution in the United Kingdom remains a distant dream.
But here I would say that Monbiot is mistaken in two ways. Firstly, in Britain we already have our written constitutional laws in the form of multiple documents which include the Magna Carta and our lesser known Bill of Rights (from 1689); and secondly, even if we might produce a more condensed, up-to-date and familiar constitution – and right now, I dread to think who might be put in charge of such a project – this newly established constitution could still be overridden.
Take America, for example, which has the most famous “written constitution” of all, and consider the case of the founding of the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve, for those who don’t know already, is the privately owned and controlled central bank of America. It was set up on the basis of plans agreed at a secret meeting of – would you guess? – bankers, that took place on Jekyll Island – you can’t make it up – exactly one century ago (Nov 1910), and was then smuggled into law as the Federal Reserve Act, just a couple of days before Christmas in 1913. This private takeover happened in spite of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5, of the US constitution, which explicitly states that it is Congress that has the power “to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin”, yet in spite of its conspicuously unconstitutional origins, the Federal Reserve has remained in charge of US monetary policy ever since.
However, what we most certainly do need, and getting back to our own private banking takeover, is for continuing exposure of, and growing pressure on, the self-serving banker-occupied enclave that is the City of London. So well done to Monbiot for helping to set the ball rolling, and perhaps now he’s got a taste for the more exotic, he might also try to lift the veil on a few more ‘private’ clubs and organisations – Bilderberg would be top of my own list, although there are plenty of other shadowy, anti-democratic agencies to choose from.
I also hope that plenty of Londoners and others will take up Monbiot’s call for more directed action:
It happens that the Lord Mayor’s Show, in which the Corporation flaunts its ancient wealth and power, takes place on 12 November. If ever there were a pageant that cries out for peaceful protest and dissent, here it is. Expect fireworks – and not just those laid on by the Lord Mayor.
1 From an article entitled “The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest: Working beyond the authority of parliament, the Corporation of London undermines all attempts to curb the excesses of finance”, written by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian on October 31, 2011. http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval?cat=commentisfree&type=article
(For some reason this web address doesn’t seem to link, but you can always cut and paste)