The City of London Corporation; The Solid Gold Woodlouse

Firstly, to put this post into some historical perspective. Of the many Clauses comprising the various versions of the 13th Century Magna Carta only a very few are still relevant, including Clause 9 which states:

The City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have.

Other cities are indeed mentioned (including the Cinque Ports) but these have long been absorbed into the mainstream of British politics and administration. Fast forward three centuries and in 1571 the City of London Corporation (CofL) created the Remembrancer post as a channel of communication between the Lord Mayor and the Crown (including Parliament). Now to 1647. The Lord Mayor and Common Council petition a recalcitrant Civil War Parliament to allow an expansion of its forces to oppose the New Model Army. Both the City and Parliament backed down when Oliver Cromwell threatened to destroy the city.

These episodes from history tell us much about the CofL. It is the woodlouse of British institutions – ancient, adaptable and a born survivor. It is these features which are the biggest obstacles in holding to account this blot on our democracy. The CofL itself points out that there is a considerable degree of misunderstanding regarding the City Remembrancer. For example, it is often stated that the Remembrancer sits in the House of Commons. He does not, as the CofL points out here; if he occupies any position it is in the Under Gallery overlooking the Chamber, but not part of it. It is not difficult to realise that a seat in the Chamber itself would be a waste of the Remembrancer’s time. He would not be allowed to take part in debates and I imagine pulling faces or looking disapprovingly at the Chief Secretary of the Treasury would not have a great effect. In fact, power is much more effectively exercised at the Reading and Committee stages of Parliamentary business. This sloppy thinking on the part of critics does nothing to help frame the urgently needed reforms.

The problems of accountability were outlined in this 2013 petition to Lord Bew, Head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life which clearly articulated the the duplicitous nature of the CofL. This is acknowledged in clause 16 of the Pay Policy statement:

It should be noted that not all of the costs of the above posts are funded from the public resources. The City of London is not an ordinary local authority, in that it has private and charitable functions which receive funding through income from endowment and trust funds.

Only its local authority, police authority and port health authority functions are funded through public resources. But, as with many other contemporary issues such as tax avoidance and the privileged status of the Duchy of Cornwall, Parliament has shown itself to be much more effective conducting investigations than implementing remedial actions. In this case the woodlouse must not evade the sole of the boot of public opinion.

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