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City of London

Below is the text of an email I sent today to all members of the Court of Common Council (the City Corporation’s elected governing body) about the proposed postponement of the elections of the City’s 100 councillors from March 2021 to March 2022. 

 

What little democracy there is in the City shouldn’t be postponed by a year for no good reason. But I expect that the postponement of these elections will receive overwhelming support from members of the Court at its meeting on Thursday 10 September.

 

EMAIL FROM COUNCILLOR GRAEME HARROWER TO THE COURT OF COMMON COUNCIL ON 7 SEPTEMBER 2020

 

The public and press watching the meeting of the Court this Thursday will see it make an initial decision on a recommendation for 100 councillors to extend their terms of office by a year for no good reason. A few of the 25 aldermen may also use the postponement of the councillor elections as cover for extending their own terms of office for even less reason.

 

The Policy and Resources Committee has  recommended that the Court postpones the councillor elections due in March 2021 to March 2022 because the committee is concerned that the turnout of the business vote in March 2021 would embarrass the City Corporation by being even lower than usual. The committee fears that businesses would be even less inclined to register 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 to vote last year, before Covid was an issue.)

 

The logical solution to this democratic deficit would be to reform the City’s electoral system by:

 

- abolishing the undemocratic and largely unsupported business vote, and 

 

- reducing the number of councillors to be proportionate to the number of residents.

 

That would move the dial of democracy in the City from before the Reform Act of 1832 to the present day. But logic has no role in the culture of the City Corporation, which is a public authority that primarily promotes private commercial interests.

 

The postponement in April this year of the elections of the Mayor of London and London Assembly has been mentioned in connection with the proposed postponement of the City’s councillor elections. The awkward fact is that these Greater London elections have been postponed from May 2020 to May 2021, whereas the City’s councillor elections are proposed to be postponed from March 2021 to March 2022. There is also no reasonable comparison between:

 

- the postponement by Parliament at the height of the Covid crisis of Greater London elections involving millions of voters, and

 

- the postponement by City councillors in the aftermath of the Covid crisis of their own elections involving a tiny number of voters.

 

I expect, though, that the first and second readings of the bill that will be presented to the Court on Thursday to postpone the councillor elections will attract overwhelming support.

 

One of several elephants that will jostle for space in the virtual room on Thursday is the elections for aldermen. The terms of office of two aldermen (Graves and Wootton) expired two to three months ago, and the term of a third (Scotland) will expire in three months’ time. All these elections would use the current “ward list” (= electoral register for City councillor and aldermen elections) compiled before the Covid crisis, so the reason for P&R’s recommendation that the Court postpones the councillor elections doesn’t apply to them.

 

The aldermen’s discussion of this subject was held in secret in accordance with conventions of their own making, although the subject is election to public office. It is reasonable to speculate that they are hoping the postponement of the councillor elections will give them cover for not holding any elections for aldermen that fall due before March 2022. Alderman Luder sought and received confirmation at the P&R meeting at which the postponement was discussed that no councillor by-elections (which resemble elections for aldermen insofar as they are not held at regular times) would be proposed to be held before March 2022.  

 

For Alderman Graves’ views on the holding of his own overdue election, and for the opposing views of a number of his constituents, see the comments on this blog: ALDERMAN POSTPONES DATE FOR HIS RE-ELECTION. The collective wish of those constituents that his election be held now is described by him as “idiotic”, which must be a unique way of seeking re-election. 

 

Finally, the bill that will be presented to the Court on Thursday refers to a statute of Edward III (a war-mongering tyrant) as giving the Court authority to postpone its councillor elections, on the basis that doing so is “profitable to the King and to the citizens” and “agreeable ... to reason and good faith”. 

 

There is real reason to doubt that this statute provides authority for the Court to enact the bill. I am taking this up as a legal matter with the Recorder.

 

For now, I would observe that the quaintness of relying on a 14th century statute may be appreciated by the Court and those it seeks to impress with its history (as long as one does not look at that history too closely). This quaintness is not, though, appreciated by the residents of the City’s largest social housing estate whom the Corporation has consistently failed, most recently and spectacularly during the Covid lockdown. 

 

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Comment by Graeme Harrower on September 12, 2020 at 9:54

As predicted in my blog, the Court of Common Council passed the bill on its first and second readings to postpone the councillor elections, and did so by a large majority - 84 votes to 22, with 3 abstentions. But the bill is not yet enacted: an issue about its legality is under consideration by the Recorder of London, and it has its third reading at the Court meeting on 8 October.

 

The elected representatives of Cripplegate ward voted as follows:

 

Against postponement: Councillors Sue Pearson and Mark Bostock (who both spoke), and William Pimlott, John Tomlinson and Stephen Quilter

 

For postponement: Councillors David Bradshaw, Mary Durcan and Vivienne Littlechild 

 

Abstained: Alderman David Graves

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