by René Lavanchy
LABOUR will this week challenge what it sees as the secrecy and unaccountability of the City of London’s government, as it seeks to become the first political party to be represented there in its 900-year history.
A slate of candidates is being put up for the elections to the Corporation of London’s common council, its main decision-making body.
Local Labour activists accuse the councillors – who are often business people non-resident in the Square Mile – of being part of an elite serving the interests of bankers.
Peter Kenyon, secretary of the 52-strong City of London Labour Party, said: “They were certainly very active in lobbying for the regulatory framework that proved to be fundamentally flawed and has plunged us into recession. The leaders of the City are looked to by our political masters as being sources of expertise.
“It’s very important for us to wake up and open the eyes of the electorate as to the extent of the influence of people they are electing.”
The current Lord Mayor of London, Ian Luder, is a partner in accountancy firm Grant Thornton, while Stuart Fraser, the corporation’s chair of policy and a common councilman, is a senior stockbroker. Both sit on Chancellor Alistair Darling’s financial services global competitiveness group.
Labour’s manifesto, launched last week by minister for London Tony McNulty, calls for all City employees to be paid the London living wage of £7.45 an hour.
It also promises to “speak out against special treatment and tax breaks for get-rich City financiers”, adding: “Too many common councillors neither live nor work in the City and are selected for their social connections”.
However, the balance of power on the council is unlikely to shift as Labour is only putting forward seven candidates for election to the 100-strong body.
Among them is Mark McDonald, a barrister of the Middle Temple who unsuccessfully ran to be Labour Party treasurer last year. No councilman currently declares themselves to be a member of a political party in the register of interests.
Mr Kenyon added: “We are not seeking to take over common council, but we are seeking to introduce a level of openness and transparency, which has previously been denied.
“We’re not seeking to overturn the role of people who had senior positions [in financial services]. It’s not to say that those skills are not relevant. But equally other sorts of skills are needed.”
The Corporation of London is the last authority in Britain whose members are elected partly by a business franchise. As well as about 8,000 resident voters, nearly 24,000 votes are distributed among businesses based in the City, with the voting share proportional to the number of staff each firm employs.