After the deluge

Seemed odd to have Planning & Transportation, a school governors’ meeting, and the Policy and Resources Committee on the day after the election. Planning looked as if a plague had decimated its membership. It hadn’t. Two lost in the polls, two or three had not stood for re-election, some had gone to the boys’ school meeting. In the Members’ Room, pre-electoral tension had given way to post-election euphoria, mixed with some sadness at the loss of old hands – Stella, Pauline, and Janet, Peter of pipe and buttonhole, another Peter, John of the red socks, Archie (again) – and cheers for Ann, an unlikely heroine, and Robin, the champions of Cheap. People looked like dazed survivors, though this was partly the result of weeks of campaigning, endless talk, including always the word “if” – “if I am re-elected…” – and tiredness. The officers involved in the count looked tireder still. Members had anxiously awaited the result of the Farringdon Without tournament – casualties on both sides – which came well after midnight to people celebrating their own victories.

As we in the Members’ Room told stories of election day two men were busy relabelling the members’ pigeon holes ready for their new users. I can tell you one useless piece of information. There are fewer members with surnames A-D than there used to be!

Dead Centre

Two of the most senior masters of livery companies, speaking at last night’s Mansion House dinner given to Masters by the Lord Mayor, commented on the elections and urged the livery to play a greater part in guaranteeing the welfare of the City. The Ward of Bedspread is well ahead of the game. At the heart of the Ward is the livery hall of the Worshipful Company of Undertakers, Embalmers and Monumental Masons. Embalmers’ Hall will actually be used as the polling station for next week’s highly contested election. As you might expect, Embalmers’ Hall is a slightly odd place, a sort of combination of the Sir John Soanes’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and an old-fashioned music hall, like Hoxton Hall, with unbleached candles in the chandeliers and a slight smell of – well, I suppose it must be – embalming fluid!

The sitting member to whom I was speaking the other day at Guildhall is, in fact, a Past Master Embalmer, and a number of the younger liverymen – more usually known these days as Funeral Directors – have decided to stand for election. (I do not mean by this that they are Standers, though funeral directors do stand around quite a lot, while waiting for the clergy to finish or for the deceased’s favourite CD track to finish playing; I think they are mostly Bobbers.) What, I wonder, will they bring to Common Council?

Some might argue, though I wouldn’t be one, that they can assist in the funeral rites of an outmoded institution. Others might see them as providing future stability, keeping the historic structures going for a bit longer, but behind the traditional conservative appearance – top hats, long black coats, and silver topped canes – we may find both business sense and a real grassroots understanding of human life – and death, of course. Embalmers are not what they seem! Indeed, embalming is enjoying a bit of a revival, and the company’s members have also developed a sideline in cryostasis, freezing bodies for later repair and recovery. A number of bankers, I am told, have expressed an interest in this.

So what is in their election manifesto? It states very simply:

“We undertake to work for you, the electors of the Ward of Bedspread. We will be there for you when you need us most. We will take time to understand your needs. We will provide an excellent service.”

They will get my vote. I notice they also provide lovely floral tributes.

Bobbing for the City

Two political parties have now emerged in the City’s elections and are contesting the historic Ward of Bedspread (which adjoins Candlewick, of course). The first of these, previously mentioned, is the Standing Party. The Standers stand up for all sorts of things. They stand up for the Temple, Smithfield, Holborn, Farringdon Within, Cheap and Bedspread. Their publicity shows them in various modes of standing – beside street works and Boris bikes, outside licensed premises and on railway platforms. They stand a lot but they don’t stand for criticism or mockery. They are rather short of humour, perhaps because they stand so much of the time and it gets rather tiring.

The other party are the Sitting Party. It originated, I think we may safely say, with Occupy LSX, which became Occupy St Paul’s. The Sitters like to sit around and talk, especially in tents and occupied buildings. They will talk to anyone and about anything. Any policies they might have are rather il-defined and changeable, because a further conversation, especially in an ad hoc general assembly, sitting around, might change them. They are strong on rhetoric but rather limited in effective action. They do sometimes stand up for things but that is not because they have any sympathy with the Standers, they don’t.

Standers, incidentally, sometimes sit down, but not often, and the more extreme Standers are to be seen striding up and down Gresham Street, and are known from this occupation as Striders. Striding for Cheap! Striding for Farringdon! Striding for the City! The more extreme Sitters are partial to chaining themselves to things – railings, pulpits, etc.

I guess that the Standers may not be very keen on my left of centre politics. They probably suspect I am a closet Sitter. The Sitters, however, are certain that I Stand for something, so they are not very keen on me either. I think this difficulty can be resolved by becoming a Bobber. Bobbing enables you to stand up for some things and to sit down for others, with a bit in between when you are neither a Stander nor a Sitter. Up and down, up and down – you will either please every one and be elected, or no-one, and not be re-elected, which would be a shame. Bobbing has a lot to recommend it. It is clearly bi-partisan in approach. Bobbers are perfect candidates for a coalition and can work with any political party. So, join me in the Bobbing Party. Bob for Bedspread! Bob for the City!

In the Livery Hall

One of the sitting members for the Ward of Bedspread was on my table at the Policy and Resources Committee dinner in honour of Stuart Fraser. You might have expected him to have been downhearted but I found him enthusiastic and ready for a fight. I looked for him yesterday, but he was out campaigning, meeting the electorate, and not being put off by the seemingly impenetrable offices. “I cannot understand,” he said, “why some of these firms bother to register voters, because they then stop us sending them election addresses and they disguise their email addresses too.”. He explained that his grandson experimented for him in trying out possible addresses. First name and surname as one without gaps. Surname with initial before. Surname with initial after. But then they even use odd versions of the company name. There was huge delight when he cracked one and the election address got through to the electors.

“I have taken a simple approach,” he continued, “nothing flash, nothing glossy. I may have been on the Court for more than thirty years, but they want to know what I have done since they elected me in 2009, and what I will do in the next four years.” I asked him about the other candidates – and I haven’t looked at them all yet – and he said that electors were getting cross. “They are not fools. If someone claims that they got rid of Occupy, the electors, who walked past the camp every working day know that it was the court order and the bailiffs that got rid of them, not someone posturing. Some of the electoral material contains, well, if not actual untruths, then at least exaggerations. It does none of us any good. Look” he continued, “we are politicians and people don’t trust us; when some people claim to have done things they didn’t do or claim to be able to things that they simply can’t do, we all suffer. I wish I could sort out the street works, make all cyclists stop at the red traffic signal and stop taxi u-turns, but I can’t. I can speak up in the Planning Committee and I do and it must have some effect, mustn’t it?”

At that point Mark Boleat rose to praise that most avuncular of chairmen, Stuart Fraser. Stuart reminisced about fifty years of working in the City, and four unbelievably hard years in which he chaired Policy. He stressed the dangers of being politicised, in the party political sense, and said that we need not defend everything the City does, indeed we must be openly critical of those who have brought he City into disrepute. And after that we listened attentively to Greg Clark MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

Standing up for Bedspread

Bedspread has three BYTs standing for Election.  Standing is what they do.  They will stand up for the City.  They will stand up for Britain.  They will stand up for bankers.  They will stand up for the NHS if it will get them votes, but they really don’t believe in it.  They will stand up for the  Ward of Bedspread.

BYTs are easily identified.  They are the one’s who sent the survey out earlier to find out what the electors of Bedspread really think.  If you search for them on the web they will turn out to be members of RIE (repatriate illegal immigrants) or some similar body with a neat acronym.  One will be the executive officer, another the research officer, a third the events officer, a fourth the press officer, and so on.  It is also reminiscent of school societies and you might think it was a game, but these people are serious and, despite outward appearances, they really may not be very nice.

Do they have policies?  Ostensibly they do, policies you might support and I might agree with. They support Barts, and forget Mrs Bottomey.  They have an obsession with stations, underground or railway, which they want to improve.  They would like to limit street works.  They are all in favour of a vibrant night- time economy, as that’s when their drinking.  Just now,however, they swagger round the Ward, rather than stagger,and are totally convinced they will win.  One of them told one of the current Councilmen “You are going to lose!”. If thwin should win we will discover what their policies really are and I think you can be certain they won’t be about streetworks and late licences.  No, they will have another agenda.

News from the Ward of Bedspread

Excitement is mounting in Bedspread as the election approaches.  There are ten declared candidates for four places, and only three of the sitting members are standing for re-election.  One candidate has withdrawn, having put in papers for a number of Wards, and probably hoping to be returned unopposed.  That leaves nine.

First on the list is the Labour Party candidate.  Yes, I know, you thought there were no political parties in the City.  Parties, yes.  Politics, yes.  Political parties, no.  Well, you are right, more or less.  Nearly everyone says that they are independent.  We have left wing independents, centre left independents, centre right independents, right wing independents.  It’s a bit like our postcodes, EC1, EC2, EC3, and EC4.  This time we need to add anarchist, nihilist, abolish the City, anti-austerity, no cuts independents, and get out of Europe, scrap the coalition, cut public spending, bring back Margaret Thatcher independents, too.  

No one actually knows how the City of London Labour Party is linked to the Labour Party in the Cities of London and Westminster (which doesn’t seem to know about the election) or to the Miliband Labour Party.  And no one knows what they represent, but variety certainly spices up the election and the Labour Party candidate is very welcome.  In 2009 they alleged that the bulk of CCs were professional bankers belonging to an old boys’ network.  This came as a bit of a shock in Bedspread where not a single CC is a banker, or had ever been a banker or wanted to be a banker – well, who would admit to being one?  Now if they said they were Freemasons, that would be another story!

Election Fever 2

This election has been marked by much pre-election activity.  A favoured route is the survey.  “I and my colleagues are carrying out a survey to find out what are the key issues in the Ward of Bedspread.” No mention of standing for election – not yet.  Bedspread is likely to have a few sitting members.  They may be long-standing members of the Court of Common Council who have, in their time, achieved a great deal.  They used to know the Ward well but it has changed and they have not changed with it, except to grow older.  They may have developed a real passion for some of the City’s more distant activities, such as Hampstead Heath or Epping Forest, rather than for street works and the night time economy.  And the public benefit conferred by the Corporation is obvious to them, so why is it not obvious to everyone?  

Such older members are seen as fair game for bright young activists.  They are going to make their way in politics and they don’t mind who they trample on in the process.  They have an ideology of sorts.  Oddly whether they are left or right, liberal or authoritarian, they seem to find something about CoL that they don’t like.  It is just too middle-of-the-road, pragmatic, adaptable.  They want extremes.  They like smashing things.  But they are unlikely to serve either the City or the Ward of Bedspread with any conviction.  The electors are being used cynically for political advancement.  (Some only want political advancement if it brings money and power, eschewing the idea of Parliament because an MP is paid so little.)

And we should feel sorry for the Heath and the Forest and the schools that rely on the City governors as the new Councilmen for Bedspread Ward will have no interest in these things.  Not political enough.  Nothing to smash.


Election Fever 1

The City of London Guildhall has become a teeming mass of anxiety as we move towards Common Council elections later this month.  The final lists of candidates have just been posted.  Election addresses are drafted.  Slates drawn up.  Alliances made, friendships renewed, and old enmities rekindled.  Those who have worked together for years suddenly find that they are in competition for a seat in the Council.  The question then is how to gain an advantageSome think, rightly, that advantage is gained by good service to the electorate and on committees, the diligent reading of papers and an attentive presence at meetings.  These should be re-elected.

Others think that statements promising future achievements will suffice, statements that might grace the manifesto of a national party rather than the election address of a City councillor. Others again claim for themselves the achievements of others, saying “we did this” or “we did that”, when the most they actually did was to vote for or against something, with little knowledge and less commitment.  These look grand, gilded for electoral purpoases, but are all plaster beneath the fresh layer of paint.  These should not be re-elected.  It is quite easy to tell the difference between them.