Time to abolish the City of London?

The Tory politician calls for the abolition of the corporation that governs London's square mile and

So at long last after endless media speculation we have a decision from Gordon Brown: Crossrail will be built.

Never mind whether this project is still viable or practical having been first proposed fourteen years ago. Never mind that it has no benefit at all for most actual Londoners as opposed to commuters from the Home Counties.

The Government has bullied and cajoled the City Corporation, the business community and the Mayor of London to stump up the £16 billion required to fund this bribe for the election that never was.

The few days running up to the announcement that gave the go ahead to the project was a typical British bodge job. The deputy director of the CBI appeared on the Today Programme to announce they were very happy with the proposals for a supplementary business rate in London only to have three of his largest retail members, Tescos, Sainsburys and John Lewis partnership on the phone within an hour saying how cross they were.

The Lord Mayor of London was prevailed upon to call an extraordinary meeting of the Court of Common Council for the first time in living memory to roll over to the Government’s demands that the City Corporation cough up £300 million of their accumulated wealth , the so called “City cash” to make up the perceived shortfall.

The role of the City Corporation or the Corporation of the City of London as it has just rebranded itself, in this whole matter bears some investigation.

Unlike proper Local Authorities the Corporation has no Leader of the Council and indeed was immune from the provisions of the 2000 Local Government Act and therefore has an unofficial leader in the Chairman of its Policy and Resources Committee currently Mr Michael Snyder.

As the City of London does not have any Party Politics it is replaced by the much more vicious personality politics and Michael Snyder who is currently serving the final year as Chairman has his fare share of critics.

Indeed his nickname among his many enemies on the Court of Common Council is 'Lord Voldermort' and just like his two predecessors (Michael Cassidy who bizarrely thought he could run for Mayor of London in 2000, and Dame Judith Mayhew whose reward for doing the Government’s bidding was a disastrous period as Master of Kings College) is perceived to have become far too powerful and in his desperation to receive a knighthood regularly pops round to Number 10, City Hall and the Treasury to charm Messrs Brown, Livingstone and Darling.

Apparently the City Corporation holds about £1 billion in City Cash the interest for which pays for the many (on the whole excellent) services that the City provides to the rest of London and also for the endless and lavish hospitality dished out to the Great and the Good at Guildhall, Mansion House and sundry Livery Halls, (I suspect that my invitations to such functions will now cease to the benefit of my substantial waist line).

This money built up over Centuries is held in trust by the Corporation on behalf of all the people of London and quite why the current members of the Corporation feel they can surrender it at the behest of this current Government I cannot understand. The exact figures remain a mystery as the matter as with so much City Corporation business was discussed in secret.

Whilst the tradition, pomp and ceremony of the City of London adds much to our Capital's life, the politics of the Corporation would benefit considerably from more openness and democracy. Quite why the City Aldermen should reject candidates for the top jobs of Sheriff and Lord Mayor on the grounds that they are Gay, female or an Evangelical Christian is beyond me.

One senior London Tory suggested to me that abolition of the Corporation in its current Political form was long overdue and a number are now saying that the time has come for all three Political parties to run slates of candidates in City elections to give the voters a proper choice.

Crossrail may well benefit the Corporation in the short term but the long term Political damage may not be worth a few trains from Maidenhead

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman