Feb 08 2011

The City meets a naughty schoolboy

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

Last week I was on a tour of the UK and Norway, talking about Treasure Islands. While I was in London, I thought I’d call in on the City of London Corporation press offices, to ask them what they thought about the book. I’m extremely harsh in the book about the City Corporation – rightly so – and when I went in to see them, I felt a bit like a naughty schoolboy, going to see Headmaster. (Although the difference was: it was I, not they, who had requested the interview.)

They were friendly and cheerful, if slightly miffed. There are lots of historical and political explanations – one might even say justifications – for why the City Corporation has become is what it is today: they were a little peeved, I felt, that I had not spent a lot more time exploring these “justifications”. Well, fair enough, perhaps, from their point of view.

But that’s not why I am writing now. I am writing because they told me a number of pertinent things. First of all, they told me some things about the City’s Cash, which I can’t publish yet because I need to get approval from them first. But they also said there were a couple of inaccuracies which need to be straightened out. So, gulp, here goes. (These, too, are subject to final confirmation from them.)

First, the Remembrancer sits facing the speaker in parliament, not behind the speaker. (I actually contacted parliament with this question and received a reply that did not answer it; I relied on the solidity of my source and went ahead.) Sorry about that.

Next, the Queen’s ceremony with the Lord Mayor and his sword on coming to the City’s boundary is not so much an iron prohibition but has more of a ceremonial, tourist flavour than I perhaps suggest. In Treasure Islands, I wrote (page 270) that “the Queen cannot wander into the City whenever she wants” and I suppose this, in light of last week’s discussions, is over-egging it a bit. She does, apparently, drive through the City, from time to time, without having to ask permission. This, at any rate is how Buckhingham Palace described it to me during my research:

“Today the procedure always takes place at Temple Bar in Fleet Street, which marks the western City limit on the road to Westminster.  Today whenever the Sovereign is due to make a State entry into the City, a red cord, held by City police, is stretched across the west end of Fleet Street to symbolise the gate of the now absent Temple Bar.  The Lord Mayor, accompanied by a deputation of the Court of Aldermen, the two Sheriffs, a deputation of the Court of Common Council, and the City Remembrancer, awaits the royal procession.  As it approaches, the cord is withdrawn, and the royal carriage halts just within the City boundary.  At this moment, both the pearl sword and the great mace are reversed, in acknowledgement of the presence of the Sovereign.”

Still, there is no doubt that this is, as I put it, “a telling marker of the differences between the City and the rest of the country.”

The next thing to correct is more significant. I cite: “the Prime Minister has to meet the City if it asks for it within ten days; the Queen has to meet the City within a week if it requests.” This, I am told, is untrue. I am checking back with my sources to find out the relevant story that lies behind the original assertion. There’s doubtless an interesting tale here.

Also, the uniqueness of the City’s business vote (you’ll have to read the chapter to understand what this is – though there’s a hint here) was questioned. There was a wider possibility for some kind of a business vote in the UK before 1969, though I have yet to clarify what exactly was involved. However I also find, via Google, this Canadian report, which if you scroll to the bottom, reveals the results of an international survey of voting practices, and finds that the City of London Corporation’s voting system, giving corporations a vote in the local election, is unique in the modern world. As it says:

“No other examples of a corporate vote in local elections were found, though New Zealand and some American states allow non-resident property owners (and sometimes lessees) some ability to vote.”

But overall, despite these glitches, there is simply no disagreement as to the thrust of the chapter: that the City of London Corporation is an ancient, rather impregnable, somewhat alien offshore island inside the British nation state that serves as a lobbying organisation for financial liberalisation and which has carved itself out an utterly peculiar, bizarre position in the modern world.

And nobody in Britain has noticed.

There’s some more interesting stuff I hope to bring you soon – principally about the City’s Cash. I don’t think I’ve got it wrong here, I am talking about new information. But I’m waiting for some confirmation what I may or may not publish on that.

I leave you now with this little link – the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers – one of the City of London’s newest livery companies. What is bizarre, I find, is that this association of tax advisers has as one of its four principal aims:

“To support the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation.”

If you wonder what the tax advice community is thinking, this, perhaps, gives us a flavour of the sympathies of some of its most illustrious members.

Oh, and if you’re at all interested in that subject — and if you are a citizen of this planet, then you absolutely should be — now read this. Urgently.

8 comments so far

ka edwards 2th February, 2011 5.33 pm

i am amazed that the book has had such little exposure in the media or have i missed something. newsnight etc etc;
i wonder has robert peston read it .
good value very readable.

J Williams 2th February, 2011 10.07 am

Re the livery company aims, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the same for all livery companies, rather than an indication of nefarious motives – hardly surprising given that their creation has to be approved by the Corporation, and that their members are the people who elect the Lord Mayor and his Sheriffs.
Certainly a mere moment’s research shows that the Worshipful Company of Firefighters “has undertaken to maintain the traditions and customs of the City of London and to pledge support to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen in all matters relevant to the life and dignity of the City” so this is not an aim exclusive to companies who benefit from the financial lobbying of the Corporation.

Nick Shaxson 2th February, 2011 10.22 am

Well, it may well be the same for them all. It’s not exactly a surprise. But the fact is – here we have associations of tax advisers, international bankers, pledge to support the City Corporation. One can have an argument about the relative merits or dangers of the Corporation itself – I take the view that for all its (often noble) traditions its special, strange status carries great dangers for the nation and the world. And that goes for its supporters, such as the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers.

[…] I blogged about the City of London Corporation and the last chapter in the UK edition of my book. I went to […]

Lorraine Marshall 2th February, 2011 8.59 pm

I’m just an ordinary person living in Ireland. I saw the review of your book in the Irish Times. Some of the facts in it are amazing. I’m recommending it to everyone I know. I’d like to actively do something to change the situation, but what?

Jeremy Clulow 4st April, 2011 6.51 pm

Saw Nicholas on DemocracyNow.org. I bought the book and find it a compelling and informative read. From me this is praise indeed, as I read very very few books.

Guernsey born: 8th August, 2011 8.48 pm

After reading some articles about treasure island, i find it surprising for Guernsey not to be mentioned as much as Jersey. I have lived in Guernsey all of my life and noticed significant changes over the past 20 years.

I do hope i see the day that Guernsey is no longer a tax haven and see the island return to the happier place it was, with happier people proud to live here.

I applaud you Nick Shaxson for having the balls to stand up to this corruption.

If only you had more time to look at Guernsey’ government and the way in which some financial institutions, businesses and lawyers conduct their business over here.

BRoI 8th August, 2012 6.55 pm

In the City, the Lord Mayor takes precedence of every subject of the Crown, including Princes of the Blood Royal. He is the head of the City Lieutenancy, and
Admiral of the Port of London, and a Trustee of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

– The Guildhall of the City of London together with a short account of its historic associations, and the municipal work carried on therein.

Printed by order of the Corporation of London, under the direction of the City Lands Committee.


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