Below is the text of an email that I sent today to all members of the Court of Common Council (the City Corporation’s elected governing body). It covers two subjects.
First, it satirises the lack of democracy in the City Corporation. As 80% of members of the Court of Common Council are elected mainly by tiny numbers of generally uninterested business voters - a system unique to the City - the Corporation cannot claim to be a democratic institution. For background, see THE LORD MAYOR AND THE ELEPHANT. Since the current crisis began, what little democratic accountability there was has further diminished.
Second, the email exposes the City Corporation's propaganda by looking at its latest COLPAI project newsletter. For background to the COLPAI issue, see ALDERMAN LUDER JUSTIFIES WORK ON COLPAI DURING LOCKDOWN.
EMAIL FROM COUNCILLOR GRAEME HARROWER TO THE COURT OF COMMON COUNCIL ON 11 MAY 2020
Some members are more equal than others
The public watching the virtual meeting of the Politburo Policy and Resources Committee last Thursday heard a lot of discussion about the date of the next Soviet Congress Court of Common Council elections (but no conclusion, except that the date will not coincide with that of the democratic GLA elections in May 2021).
Another matter on which the committee spent a lot of time was the formation of six “cross-cutting Member Thematic Consultation Groups”. These groups will form a temporary addition to the Corporation's existing 130+ committees, sub-committees, etc, and will operate in conjunction with an informally enhanced RASC. The formation of these groups reveals a universal tendency of bureaucracies to respond to any situation by forming more committees. Contrary to their collective name, these groups don’t involve consultation with local Soviet representatives ordinary members, because their membership is restricted to the Central Committee committee chairs.
The Chief Commissar Commoner conveyed to the meeting the “view from below decks”, saying ordinary members have:
“a sense of being dispossessed, of being disengaged, rendered superfluous, and so on”.
The General Secretary Policy Chair replied:
“this is a very difficult time for all of us, and of course we’re not able to involve members…and I can understand the frustrations of that….I’m actually taking a BIG STEP in making transparent the fact that the Policy Chair does take soundings as part of their job…. I’m trying to do it in a systematic way, which will INVOLVE AS MANY CHAIRS AS POSSIBLE at this time”.
So no move then towards perestroika anything that is recognisably democratic.
The total amount of time the committee spent discussing anything relevant to the electorate was nil.
Another Soviet-style characteristic of the Corporation is its reliance on propaganda. The Corporation’s oppressive treatment of Golden Lane residents, including social housing tenants and schoolchildren, consists not only of letting them suffer intolerable construction noise during lockdown, but also of insidiously making them feel bad about objecting to it.
The Corporation’s latest COLPAI project newsletter reminds residents that:
"…our priority is to complete the new primary school, ensuring [its] children and staff can move out of their temporary accommodation into new state-of-the-art facilities…..we are committed to providing social homes for local people on Islington Council and City of London Corporation’s waiting lists….We understand that this is a challenging time for all and appreciate that residents will be at home….we thank you for your continued cooperation during this time”.
Delaying this three year project for a few weeks obviously doesn't justify the suffering of the Corporation’s existing social housing tenants and schoolchildren during lockdown. So any communication by the Corporation about the COLPAI work must:
- distract attention from this fact,
- say something that sounds good - and what can be better than social housing and education? and
- imply that anyone who objects to what the Corporation is doing opposes social housing and education, and is therefore bad.
The Corporation’s current messaging on this topic has quietly dropped any reference to the alleged financial consequences for it of suspending work during lockdown. Could it be that it doesn’t sound good for a public body that controls billions of pounds to save a relatively small amount of money at the expense of the welfare of people it is supposed to serve?
One resident wrote to the Corporation in response to this latest communication saying:
“Your newsletter was an insult….I am not in any way opposed to increased provision of social housing on this site….your public communications are appalling, cliché-ridden drivel. If you want a less hostile relationship with local residents, do better.”
A constant theme in all the Corporation’s propaganda is virtue signalling. The newsletter mentioned is full of it. The "Rules for the Conduct of Life” [attributed to an 18th century Lord Mayor], however, admonishes those who invite others to share their self-praise, saying:
“But take not praise to yourself of anything which you do….the praise of men is an empty bubble, and so far from being of any real benefit, it serves only to puff up those who are fond of it with pride and vanity, and thereby make them odious to God, and despicable in the sight of even those who praise them” (Rule IX).
This prompts a further suggestion for a replacement of the Corporation’s motto with one that is more accurate:
Domine Pecunia et laudatio dirigite nos (Money and praise direct us).
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