The City of London and its Corporation

30 Dec

Tis nothing but a cancerous parasite.


The City of London, and its Corporation, is an ancient body. There are many, especially those on the Left, who see the Corporation of London simply as a local authority that has a few left overs from a past time, who have managed to carve-out a few privileges over the centuries. They could not be more wrong.

The Corporation was formed centuries before the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, with rights and privilege to self determination and self rule granted by the Kings of Mercia and Wessex long before 1066, as the corporation itself says: “The right of the City to run its own affairs was gradually won as concessions were gained from the Crown.”. It has over the centuries not only maintained those rights, but enhanced them.

Following the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror marched on London, to Southwark and failed to get across London Bridge or to defeat the Londoners. He eventually crossed the River Thames at Wallingford, pillaging the land as he went. Rather than continuing the war, Edgar Ætheling, Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria surrendered at Berkhamsted. William rewarded London in granting the citizens a charter in 1075; the City of London was one of the few institutions where the English retained its authority. Significantly The City was not covered by the Domesday Book.

Tom Simmons, chief executive of the corporation, outlines the heft and the outlandish nature of this primeval quasi-British institution. “The corporation emerged from a ‘missed time’ and there is no direct evidence of it coming into existence,” he said. “There is no charter that constituted the corporation as a corporate body.” City people joke that it dates its “modern period” from 1067, the year when William the Conqueror “came friendly” to the City and let it keep its ancient rights as he subdued the rest of the country.

This “missed time” is significant, because it means the City’s rights pre-date the construction of modern political Britain, pre-dates parliament and this has placed it outside parliament’s normal legislative remit. The City evolved as an institution not so much subordinate to parliament, or the church, or the Crown, but adjacent to and intertwined with them in complex relationships. It is just as the Vatican is, a City State, a State within a State.

But the City integrates that intertwined relationship with the rest of Britain at several levels. The Corporation itself, independent and outside of parliament’s remit. The City of London as a Local Authority whilst retaining its ancient structures allows for modernisation in some quarters to ‘fit in’ with the rest of Britain as it did with the boundary reforms of 1994, the only notable boundary changes to the City since the first census in 1801. The City has its own Territorial Police force, the City of London Police and is its own Police Authority. However, only part of the corporation is visible to the public at large as the Freedom of Information Act applies solely to its mundane functions as a local authority or police authority.

Indeed as if to reinforce that position the City of London Corporation has a permanent representative in the House of Commons, the Remembrancer, every bit a part of the constitutional furniture as is the Royal Mace, as in fact it came with the Royal Mace into parliament as the Remembrancer was a role first enacted by Elizabeth I to ensure the City’s independence from her own court officials and Privy Council. In 1685 an order was made for the Remembrancer “to continue to attend Parliament and the offices of the Secretaries of State daily, and acquaint the Lord Mayor with the public affairs and other business transacted there, relating to the City”. The role is far from being just ceremonial.

The Corporation of the City of London have the right of presenting petitions to the House of Commons at the Bar by their Sheriffs, accompanied by the Remembrancer. The right of presenting petitions at the Bar is regarded as a privilege solely of the Corporation of the City of London. All other petitions must be presented by a member.

The Remembrancer is one of the City of London’s Chief Officers and the role dates back to 1571. His traditional role is as the channel of communications between the Lord Mayor and the City of London on the one hand and the Sovereign, Royal Household and Parliament on the other. The Remembrancer is also the City’s Ceremonial Officer and Chief of Protocol.

The Remembrancer’s department at the City of London is broken into three distinct branches of work – parliamentary, ceremonial and private events. The parliamentary office is responsible for looking after the City of London’s interests in Parliament with regard to all public legislation, while the ceremonial office’s objectives are to enable the Lord Mayor and City of London to welcome high profile visitors both domestically and internationally. Functions staged range from small receptions to major state dinners.

The Remembrancer, who sits opposite the Speaker is politely referred to as a lobbyist these days, and is “charged with maintaining and enhancing the City’s status and ensuring that its established rights are safeguarded”. His office watches out for political dissent against the City and lobbies on financial matters. Make no mistake that lobbying in this case is enforcing the rights of the City, ensuring that its status of a State within a State can never be usurped.

Over the centuries, reformers in Britain have tried, and failed, to have the corporation merged into a unified London. The political landscape heaved and shifted around it, but the City stood immune. As the Times noted in 1881, “The City Corporation is sacred although nothing else is.” Clement Attlee tried and failed in 1937. “Over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster,” he said.

The City is a pragmatic beast, and will allow its business residents to be regulated by parliament if it suits, but only to an extent, and never the Corporation itself. Over the past few turbulent months, whilst those unelected bodies of the EU have called for ever closer union, we can be assured that the City of London Corporation, sitting as an equal partner in parliament will have made very clear that its ancient rights, those rights of self determination and self rule, may not be given away to anyone, by anyone, especially by a parliament who simply do not have the authority to interfere in its independence.

That is why Cameron had to say NO to the colleagues as their plans impinged on the City of London.

If only we could find politicians who would enforce those same rights of sovereignty that we, the general public also have, and fully expect to be honoured, but then in their eyes, in Cameron’s eyes, we are merely the serfs whose rights can be bought and sold at will.

n.b. In his book Treasure Islands Nicholas Shaxson explains why the City of London as constituted is so important to the business health of Britain and direct regulation by the EU would be fatal.

The Bank of England, lodged in the heart of the City (but not, it has to be said, regulated by it), in effect encouraged tax havenry in British outposts of the Caribbean and elsewhere. By the 1980s, the City was at the centre of a great, secretive financial web cast across the globe, each of whose sections – the individual havens – trapped passing money and business from nearby jurisdictions and fed them up to the City: just as a spider catches insects. So, a complex cross-border merger involving a US multinational might, say, route a lot of the transaction through Caribbean havens, whose British firms will then send much of the heavy lifting work, and profits, up to the City.

The Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guern­sey and the Isle of Man, which focus heavily on European business, form the web’s inner ring. In the second quarter of 2009, Jersey alone provided £135bn in bank deposits upstreamed to the City. Jersey Finance, the tax haven’s promotional body, puts the relationship plainly: “Jersey is an extension of the City of London.”

The next ring of the web contains the British overseas territories, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Like the Crown dependencies, they have governors appointed by the Queen and are controlled by Britain in myriad ways, but with enough distance to allow Britain to say “There is nothing we can do” when it suits.

The web’s outer ring contains an assortment of havens, such as Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, Hong Kong and the Bahamas, which Britain does not control but which still feed billions in business to the City from around the world.

So, the corporation has two main claims to being a tax haven: first, as a semi-alien entity, floating partly free from Britain (just as the Cayman Islands are), and second, as the hub of a global network of tax havens sucking up offshore trillions from around the world and sending it, or the business of handling it, to London. These are possibly the biggest reasons for the City’s wealth and power – yet how many Britons understand this?

The corporation loves financial deregulation – globally. Deregulation is a bit like shaking (or, perhaps more accurately, removing a net from) a tree full of insects: the more you do it, the more business floats around, ready to be caught in the nearby web. As such, it is hardly surprising that the Lord Mayor of London is evan­gelical about it. In fact, his role is officially, as the City explains, to “expound the values of liberalisation” and provide “support for innovation, proportionate taxation and regulation”. (On his 20-odd foreign trips a year, he makes clear that “proportionate” means “limited”.) Not only that, but the Lord Mayor and colleagues promise to “take up cudgels on behalf of the City anywhere in the world on any subject which is of concern to the City”.

Thus, the role of the City of London Corporation as a municipal authority is its least important attribute. This is a hugely resourced international offshore lobbying group pushing for international financial deregulation, tax-cutting and tax havenry around the world.

That description alone goes a long way to understanding why the EU, and the French in particular would want to control the City of London. They have nothing to compare, and see the City as a cash cow to be milked until it, like the Eurozone, is nothing but a barren wasteland, with no vision, no innovation, no growth, no future, that can only borrow to survive as it now has little or no wealth creation ability left.

It would be the ultimate treason against this nation for any British politician to even attempt to sign this wealth, and its wealth creation away.


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