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City of London

ALDERMAN POSTPONES DATE FOR HIS RE-ELECTION

The election for alderman in Cripplegate Ward has been postponed....
 
David Graves, the alderman for Cripplegate Ward (which covers Golden Lane Estate and part of the Barbican) reached the end of his six year term of office on 17 June 2020.
 
The archaic conventions that govern this archaic public office require that upon the expiry of the term of office of an alderman, he or she submits a “letter of surrender“ to the Lord Mayor. The letter is then placed on the “summons” (= agenda) for the next meeting of the Court of Alderman, so all the aldermen "can consider whether to receive it”. 
 
When asked, Alderman Graves explained that his “letter of surrender” did not appear on the “summons” for the meeting of the Court of Aldermen on 10 July because he had not submitted it. That was because: 
 
“given the current CV-19 concerns and limitations, I decided that to trigger a 42 ... day electoral process now would be inappropriate and unsuitable for the good conduct of a fair election.”
 
But his submitting a “letter of surrender“ would not have triggered the 42 day electoral process. The letter would first need to be “received” by the Court of Aldermen. The Covid crisis is one of the few situations imaginable in which the Court could justifiably defer the start of the electoral process - but for no longer than necessary. Should not the time at which the electoral process starts be a matter for the Court of Aldermen to decide, rather than the alderman whose term of office has expired and who seeks re-election?
 
.... but postponed until when? 
 
When asked about the timing of the election, Alderman Graves observed that the Policy and Resources Committee had agreed to recommend to the Court of Common Council that elections for the City’s 100 councillors, due to be held in March 2021, be postponed to March 2022.
 
The members of the Policy and Resources Committee agreed to make that recommendation because they were concerned that the turnout of the City Corporation’s (unique and undemocratic) business vote in March 2021 would embarrass the Corporation by being even lower than usual. They were concerned that City businesses might be even less inclined to register to vote this autumn than usual, due to the Covid aftermath. (The majority of City businesses are so uninterested in the Corporation that 60% of them didn’t bother to register last year, before Covid was an issue.)
 
The election for alderman in Cripplegate, if held before February 2021, will be held on the basis of the “ward list” (= City electoral register) that was compiled last autumn, pre-Covid, so the rationale for postponing the councillor elections due in March 2021 does not apply to it.
 
Regarding a date for that election, there seems to be no good reason why the electoral process cannot begin this September. Many voters use a postal ballot anyway. Those who do not could register for one. The City Corporation could spend some of the unused £70,000 it set aside for a campaign to encourage more business registration this year on facilitating postal registration. For voters willing to attend a polling station, and if conditions allow for one to be open at the relevant time, social distancing would be much easier to achieve than in a shop or pub.
 
Alderman Graves responded by saying:
 
 “offering voters a choice between registering for a postal vote and disenfranchisement is to my mind undemocratic and wrong”.
 
So is it democratic and right to offer voters no choice as to who represents them as alderman until such time as the incumbent, whose term of office expired a month ago, unilaterally decides when to seek re-election?
 
The secrecy of the aldermen
 
Two other elections for aldermen fall due within the next six months. The term of office of Alderman David Wootton (Langbourn Ward) expired on 19 July and that of Alderman Patricia Scotland (Bishopsgate Ward) expires on 8 December.
 
We know that the aldermen were due to consider the three forthcoming elections at the meeting of their General Purposes Committee (to which they all belong) on 10 July. But we don’t know what they decided. That’s because they won’t tell us, and their meetings and papers are secret - even from City councillors. The one insignificant exception is that formal Court of Aldermen meetings are held in public, but they typically last for only a few minutes and deal with routine matters like approving applications for Freedom of the City.
 
This extraordinary secrecy is a problem. Some organisations that are closely associated with the City Corporation, such as livery companies and certain masonic lodges, meet out of public view, but do not exercise public functions. Aldermen do, and the “Principles of Public Life“ - which include “openness” and “accountability” - apply to them as much as to any other holder of public office. 
 
The best solution to this problem is simply to abolish the archaic and superfluous office of alderman. But that is likely to require government intervention. While the office of alderman still exists, the basic democratic imperative should at least be met of holding elections as soon as practicable after they fall due, and by appropriate means.
 
Hopefully whoever is elected as the next alderman for Cripplegate will represent voters to the Corporation, not the other way round, and will campaign for real change to the Corporation.
 
The process for that election should be begin as soon as practicable, i.e. this September. 

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Comment by Iain Meek on August 22, 2020 at 14:12

Regarding Jacqueline Swanson on August 15, 2020- ”In a democratic system, it shouldn’t. It should be the electorate’s view that counts, not yours." 

I actually disagree on this general point as we are living in a representative democracy.  The buck currently stops with David as our elected representative, just as it stops with Mr Trump in the USA who may overturn the next vote if it is 'rigged' or with Mr Lukashenko  or Mr Putin if the vote has already been 'rigged'. 

 

A common necessity of democracies is fixed or agreed terms of office and elections.  Usually only autocratic dictators re-fix or re-agree with only him/herself when these will occur.  My complaint is this lack of re-election by a single post-holder’s own decision

….and I continue to wish David 'good luck' in sorting out the results of his sole and buck-stopping decision.

Comment by Iain Meek on August 22, 2020 at 14:08

Graeme Harrower's 

The Seven Principles of Public Life

were published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-publ...

1.4 Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

1.5 Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

Comment by Graeme Harrower on August 18, 2020 at 13:30

Comment

Alderman Graves commented on 27 July: “For all Graeme’s intimations of secrecy, he has attended many “secret“ meetings, in the sense that the public are excluded from them.“ The fact that I sit on the Court of Common Council does not mean I approve of all it does. I have been critical of the club-like culture among many of its elected members, who disapprove of the public disclosure of issues within this public authority, including the posting of this blog.
In any case, there is no reasonable comparison between:

- the last few minutes of meetings of the Court and its committees that I attend being closed to the public while matters that are classified as confidential under the Local Government Act 1972 are discussed, typically matters involving financial information, e.g. competitive tenders, and

- the entirety of meetings of the committees of aldermen that Alderman Graves attends being held in secret from both the public and other elected members, even when those meetings include the discussion of election to public office. This secrecy is not authorised by law, but only by the aldermen’s own conventions. 

Alderman Graves goes on to say: “So, Graeme, nice try, but I won’t try to make you happy by betraying my obligations.” What he could do is to try to persuade his fellow aldermen to make public their discussion on 10 July about the elections of aldermen, since the secrecy is only of their own devising. He and his fellow aldermen could also consider whether they are “betraying” their obligations under the “Principles of Public Life“ to act with “openness” and “accountability”. These principles form part of the Members’ Code of Conduct that applies to all elected members, including aldermen.
Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on August 15, 2020 at 13:53

Dear Alderman Graves

You say your constituents can contact you. But why should the burden be on us to do so? Why didn’t you tell us you weren't submitting a ‘letter of surrender’ after your term of office had expired? The debate that has exploded around your decision, some of it on this website, much more neighbour to neighbour, was sparked because someone who doesn't even represent us thought we ought to know. He was right. We did need to know.

I wonder if you have any idea about how your responses are being received? It strikes me that you are clearly and purposefully missing the point. What you have failed to do (submit your ‘letter of surrender’) and your argument for failing to do it aren’t democratic. You can't argue that away. To claim you are looking after our health is paternalistic at best: why do you think you’re better able to judge that than we are? And you have a conflict of interest, which we don’t: you want to remain in office as an alderman.

On our estate, there is a lot of disappointment in most of our elected members. We all have stories: mine is that I wrote an open letter on behalf of 30 residents in May asking the COLPAI Project Team to confirm that they would not apply for an extension of hours of work: Open Letter to COLPAI Project

The letter was sent during Mental Health Awareness week, and included 30 personal accounts of how residents were being acutely, and some desperately, affected by the noise, dust and fumes from the site which operated during lockdown while people were confined to their small flats. This letter was copied to our local MP and all 125 members of the Court of Common Council, including yourself. The only people who responded were our MP and Mark Bostock, one of our Cripplegate Councillors. There was no need for another Cripplegate Councillor, Sue Pearson, to reply, because she actually led the campaign against the COLPAI hours extension, as well as against the work continuing during lockdown. You were quick to post a comment on her blog once an application to extend the hours was rejected, although that wasn’t due to anything you did: The latest on COLPAI working hours

We all know the 'new normal' includes significant changes in how we do things in order to be safe. When it comes to holding elections, there should be changes too: making postal voting (which is how many people already vote) easily available, and requiring social distancing and mask wearing at polling stations for those who choose to attend them. There are countless examples of organisations and businesses who have had to overcome significantly more challenging circumstances in order to continue doing their job of work. To postpone elections until it is as ‘safe’ to hold them as it was before the virus is no more acceptable than postponing the opening of schools, shops, hairdressers, etc until then. It is little more than stalling. 

Instead of replying with another long and complicated comment, why don’t you just reconsider? You say ‘the buck begins and ends with me’. In a democratic system, it shouldn’t. It should be the electorate’s view that counts, not yours. 

Comment by JoJo on August 14, 2020 at 23:49

Reading though the comments I was struck by how unwilling David Graves seems to be to accept the views of those he is supposed to represent. His argument against holding an election with claims such as: "For anyone wanting to say "how out of touch is the City of London" it would be perfect ammunition" doesn't ring true because those electors posting here overwhelmingly say they want an election. By refusing to have an election now David Graves seems intent on proving that he is out of touch with his electorate, and by extension the Court of Alderman and the City of London are too.

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on August 13, 2020 at 19:19

Dear Ian,

Just to update you regarding the Leisure Centre, the re-opening is being actively discussed between Fusion and the City of London at the moment - obviously a key consideration is how to re-open in a safe manner. Unfortunately I cannot promise a rapid re-opening - the timescale is more likely to be weeks than days. Sadly, these things are never as straightforward as one would like them to be.  

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on August 12, 2020 at 11:03

Dear Ian,

The issue, as discussed below, is about timing, not about whether the nation is still a democracy when local elections have been postponed, as they have been nationwide. I think it would look very odd to the outside world for the City of London to choose to be "unique" in a new way - ie to insist on holding elections when they have been postponed everywhere else. I think the rest of the world would (by and large) not say "what a wonderful example to us all" but instead say "how idiotic". For anyone wanting to say "how out of touch is the City of London" it would be perfect ammunition. And when the "City of London" is asked "why do this" the "City" says "ask Alderman David Graves, it was his decision". There is no escaping the fact that the buck begins and ends with me. 

Regarding the sports centre, I am sorry if none of your elected Members have responded to your emails - I will find out what is happening. 

Comment by Iain Meek on August 12, 2020 at 10:30

Dear David

The issue seems to be "- our alderman has decided not to allow himself to stand for election even though he has been in post for more than six years" and the date for re-election is being delayed on his sole decision.

You should already have my direct emails regarding the threats to representative democracy around the World.  I trust you do support representative democracy and that you would wish to be a shining example of how it is best done.  It must be hell, living in the cradle, etc.

Best wishes and good luck.

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on August 10, 2020 at 13:30

Paul, I am not sure what mode of resolution you have in mind.  All of your local councillors (and even the Alderman) are "real" people who live locally and are not living in ivory towers somewhere miles away. You and I have met, and we are in touch via this and other media (I do not hide my email address). For me, what this means is that there are channels for communication, it is not as if it is a case of "Wardmote or bust" and if anyone in the Ward wants to communicate with their elected representatives, it is hardly as though the answer is that there is "nothing doing" and go find some cake to eat. 

As I have said before, the annual Wardmote is a very formal and ceremonial occasion, and I find it hard to believe that what Paul wants (or needs) is an Alderman in a violet "civic authority" gown with two beadles in tow in "town crier" hats plus a Ward Clerk. I, above all, respect the historic back-story which is why it happens this way in the City (unlike, I suspect, any other Local Authority) but if what Paul wants is for elected officials to listen to the electorate, and to be available, that is the position now, and it would be remiss of me not to point this out.  So, we can work together, we can be available and we can listen and we do not need Zoom in order to do so.

That said, I accept that "us politicians" may need to consider how to embrace our voters without needing to have a physical meeting in a shared space, so I agree this is a valid question and I will consider what can be done - as you know Paul, we have had "meet your Member" meetings outside the annual cycle of "Wardmote" meetings, so it is not "Wardmote or bust". Thank you for raising the issue.   

Comment by Paul Lincoln on August 9, 2020 at 21:34

I am very concerned that there appears to be no hope of resolution of this issue.

A number of important things are not being addressed:
- our alderman has decided not to allow himself to stand for election even though he has been in post for more than six years
- there has been no formal communication of this decision to the electors in this ward
- there have been no resident meetings or a wardmote for many many months

- the elections for common council are also due to be postponed for a year and again, there has been no formal communication of this to the electorate

In a world in which the City now routinely runs its meetings on zoom and youtube and in which the Golden Lane Residents Association also happily runs its affairs on zoom, many of us would appreciate both communication and accountability.

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