Stuart C. Wilson
Show Hide image

Keeping the show on the road

The pageantry and colour of the Lord Mayor’s Show masks an institution that ruthlessly pursues its self-interest.

This is the weekend, the second in November, when the Lord Mayor of the City of London Corporation, the leader of the governing body for the Square Mile, takes up office. The annual passing of the baton begins on Friday morning with the Silent Ceremony in the Guildhall and ends on Monday evening when the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with every last dark corner of the British establishment, come for an evening of great feasting.

Between these two ticketed events, there is the Lord Mayor’s Show, on Saturday, when the new incumbent travels through the City in his golden coach accompanied by his (and indeed, recently, by her) retinue. He receives a blessing from the Dean of St Paul’s on the steps of the cathedral, swears allegiance to the monarch at the Royal Courts of Justice and returns to take up residence in the Mansion House.

There will be military bands, liveried horses, pikemen, musketeers and ward beadles. There will be over a hundred motorised ‘floats’, some seven thousand participants as well as up to 500 thousand people lining the streets and 2.5 million people watching at home on the BBC. There’s a flypast courtesy of the Royal Air Force. It’s the largest unrehearsed pageant in the world according to Dominic Reid, the Show’s extremely pukka ‘pageant master’. If not exactly bread and circuses there will be artisan street food and fireworks. It’s certainly a jolly family day out.

I ask Mr Reid about the wider purpose to the Show and he says, when pushed, that it’s to demonstrate the tradition and stability of the Mayoralty. I ask him why that’s politically important. He tells me that the politics of the Show is above his pay grade. He says he’s just there to make it happen, that he’s following orders and that, besides, it’s popular and quite fun and most people seem to enjoy it.

“What would happen if the Robin Hood Tax people wanted to take a float? Would they be allowed to do this?”

“Who gets to have a float is in the gift of the Lord Mayor. I’m afraid you’d have to ask him. As I say, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a political event.”

This year is a big one. It’s not just the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta but also of the charter granting the City of London the right to elect its own mayor. In the early months of 1215 King John was still hoping to secure the City’s loyalty in the face of the restive barons and offered to allow this commune of merchants the practice of direct democracy in exchange for its support. It didn’t work. The City pocketed the franchise and then put its weight behind the barons, forcing the King to bring his seal to Runneymede after all.

This bit of expediency tells us a lot about why the City has lasted as long as it has. It can look both ways at once (supporting, for example, both Parliament and the King during the English Civil War) whilst continuing to prize its own institutional independence. Of course independence is easier when you have at your disposal the colossal resources of the City Corporation, which today are mainly generated through the rental income on its property portfolio. Think of the City Corporation as primary a landlord and developer and you wouldn’t be far off.

Indeed it’s always been business before politics in the Square Mile. And in its ambition to remain above the fray of party politics the City Corporation has, in fact, been largely successful. Of the 125 elected representatives that make up the Common Council 124 of them come mob-handed as Independents. I’m the only councillor representing a party. I was elected in a by-election last year as the Labour member for the ward of Portsoken, one of only four wards in the City where people actually live (the electorate in the other nineteen wards is made up largely of office workers).

“I suppose you want to abolish us?” I am asked by a fellow councillor as we are milling around after a meeting, “I suppose, if you had your way, you’d cancel the Show and use the money to accommodate Syrian refugees in the City or something like that.”

“On the contrary” I say, equally fantastically, “when I’m Lord Mayor I’ll restore the Show’s status as a celebration of London’s actual workforce. We’ll have junior doctors, hospital workers and care assistants leading the way. We’ll have floats for Living Wage employers together with their office cleaners. We’ll have public transport workers parading with black cab drivers as well as street cleaners, the people who actually keep the London show on the road. And I’ll personally sponsor a float to promote the introduction of the financial transaction tax.”

“I think you’ll find the City of London Cleansing Department already has a float,” he says and disappears. It occurs to me that maybe I went a bit far there with the banter.

When it arrives in the post a few days later I check the Show’s official programme.  It’s true that the cleansing department is in the line up for this year, at float number 67. But so too, I notice, is a one promoting the Worshipful Company of World Traders (between those sponsored by Starbucks Coffee and the property developer that owns Canary Wharf). Where, I wonder, do these World Traders stand on the Financial Transaction Tax?

Then again, since the City eschews dirty old politics, like the pageant master they probably don’t have a view on any of this since all they want to do is to make sure that the City is clean, safe, well-caffeinated and free to represent the interests of untethered finance capital. I guess that’s what comes with 800 years of self-determination.

William Taylor is a vicar in the London Borough of Hackney and the first Labour councillor in the City of London. He tweets @hackneypreacher

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.