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.