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City Reform Group

December 3, 2012
by the gentle author

At the end of last week, on a winter’s day remarkable for the clarity of its light, the vestry room above the porch of Christ Church, Spitalfields, was filled with an expectant throng for the launch of the City Reform Group.

Their ambition is to restore the reputation of the City of London which has sunk to an all-time low in recent years with an endless grimy catalogue of misdemeanours exposed since the financial crash that brought the country to its knees. Grievous failings such as criminal manipulation of the markets, mis-selling of financial products, pilfering of pension funds and engineering of tax avoidance schemes on a grand scale are compounded in the public eye by a greedy bonus culture which flourishes unabated.

A year ago, the Occupy movement at St Paul’s Cathedral revealed that while the general populace recognises the City of London no longer serves the Common Good, the Corporation is complacent in its ability to serve itself handsomely. Working within the established channels, the City Reform Group endeavours to deliver change by encouraging new candidates – any citizen is eligible to stand – in the forthcoming March elections to the Common Council, and by inviting all candidates to sign up to seven pledges that outline their moral responsibility.

After a welcome by Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney, it fell to Father William Taylor (a figure well-known in Spitalfields), to introduce the speakers who represented the diverse range of social interests unified by the Group – Pula Houghton, Director of Which? The Consumers’ Association – Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors – David Davis, Member of Parliament – Giles Fraser, Ex-Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral – and David Pitt-Watson of the Royal Society of Arts.

Pula Houghton reported the results of a Consumer Association survey in which 71% of those questioned declared they did not trust the banks. Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors was eloquent in his commitment to Capitalism, Enterprise and the Free Market yet acknowledged that the concept of the Free Market must be turned back on itself so flaws in Corporate governance can be challenged. David Davis, who sat on the government’s Independent Panel on the Future of Banking, emphasised that he discovered many workers in the financial industries admitted the system forced them to do things they knew were wrong, yet had no Hippocratic oath – as other professions do – which gave them the authority to raise a challenge in the workplace.

It was Canon Giles Fraser who invoked the ancient right of Sanctuary upon the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral last year, permitting the protestors to stay and asking the police to leave, thereby becoming the catalyst for the camp which occupied the churchyard last winter. The subsequent conflict within the Church of England that led to the eviction of the camp also led to Fraser’s departure from St Paul’s. He is a passionate advocate of the need for a wider democratic involvement in the City to restore moral principles and ensure it acts for the Common Good. And, gazing from the windows of Christ Church towards the glass towers of the City gleaming in the November sunlight, Fraser confronted the audience with the harsh contrast between the vast wealth represented by the City and the deprivation in Tower Hamlets where 50% of children live below the poverty line.

The final speaker, David Pitt-Watson of the Royal Society of Arts, summed up the purpose of the gathering succinctly when he said, “This is not a protest, this is an election.” and he concluded by quoting Margaret Mead’s famous words - “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world – indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

There are twenty-five thousand voters within the City of London and I understand that, even within corporations, a free vote is exercised – which means the potential is there and waiting for new candidates to reinvigorate Britain’s last Rotten Borough, where more than half the wards went uncontested in the last election. So I call upon readers to consider standing in the election next March. A non-party political organisation, the City Reform Group can offer advice to prospective candidates who wish to sign up to the seven pledges below.

1. We will promote commerce within the City on the basis of its ability to serve its customers.
2. We will allocate resources in order to promote fiduciary standards and responsible business practice.
3. We will not be afraid to speak out when we encounter practice that falls below the highest standards.
4. We will recognise our responsibility to the common good.
5. We will administer the Corporation democratically, efficiently and accountably.
6. We will be open and transparent in all our dealings
7. As elected officials, each year we will publicly report on how we have met these pledges.
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Father William Taylor introduces the speakers.

Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney

David Davis MP and Giles Fraser Ex-Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral

Pula Houghton, Director of Which?

David Pitt-Watson, Royal Society of Arts

Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney

19 Responses leave one →
  1. December 3, 2012

    giles fraser is the most compelling figure to come out of the occupy groups. this is a real blow to untrammelled power which works with impunity to create suffering for all of us. thank you so much for going there, writing, and photographing this meeting. power to the people.

  2. Carolyn Foley permalink
    December 3, 2012

    Thank you for this article. I think the past actions of the City of London mirrors a ‘state of mind’ which has taken hold in our western societies, no matter what country we look at. Ordinary people look on in dismay at what has happened. Here we have an example of what we can do.

  3. joan permalink
    December 3, 2012

    Fascinating this – the linked to website presents information in a very user friendly form. However, to state the obvious, could they not have found at least one woman to speak at the launch? The pictures reinforce the idea of the city being a place for men in suits.

    Looking forward to seeing how this develops.

    Joan

  4. Vicky permalink
    December 3, 2012

    What good news this Monday morning, thank you for telling us.

  5. Valerie permalink
    December 3, 2012

    Great idea but the photos said it all.
    Where were the women ? Lots of clubbable men who I’m sure have the best of intentions.
    Were there no women at the meeting?

  6. the gentle author permalink*
    December 3, 2012

    I agree, where are the women? We need lots of female candidates to stand in this election and challenge the boys’ club!

  7. Juliet Wrightson permalink
    December 3, 2012

    At last the church of England doing something worthwhile.

  8. December 3, 2012

    You’re all right – we really need more women involved! If you like the sound of what we’re trying to do, please do get in touch, either via the website or at info@cityreform.org.uk

    Naomi Colvin
    City Reform Group

  9. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 3, 2012

    Without the Corporation, large parts of Hampstead Heath (esp Ken Wood) & Epping forest would have been built-over, or turned into motorways,
    Their defence of Epping Forest during the building of the M25 was amusing, in a way, watching then then-mighty MinofTransport running into an immovable object & losing … (“No you are NOT going to bulldoze your way thorough our forest, held by us in trust for all Londoners”).

    Giles Fraser’s “heart” is in the right place, but, like the “occupy ” so-called protestors, his brain doesn’t seem to do rationality. I spoke to several “occupy” people, and they all appeared to be under some form of religious delusion – And, “we are aginst big corporations” whilst using an apple iPad ….Oh yeah.

    OTOH, there ARE aspects of the “city” that need cleaning out – though whether that is a matter for the Corporation, or for national government is a separate matter, of course.

  10. December 3, 2012

    Interesting post and link – I hadn’t heard of the Unincorporated Voters before now – as I suspect, haven’t many of my City colleagues.

  11. Simon Mooney permalink
    December 3, 2012

    The audience was much more representative of the sexes but I’m afraid my pictures of the speakers were always going to disappoint in this respect. I do remember the Bishop of Stepney (or was it Father William Taylor?) raised the absence of women around the top table in an early address and made an unfavourable comparison with the recent General Synod.

  12. December 3, 2012

    Didn’t David Davis leave an unpleasant stick of hypocrisy? Or has he forgotten that he claimes a five figure sum from the taxpayer for home improvements and mowing his paddock?

    The vast majority of people in banking do work to moral principles,but then they are not the ones that hit the headlines and are not discussed here. Maybe the group could invite a few who work for the average salary of £17,000 for a more balanced view

  13. Rowena Macdonald permalink
    December 3, 2012

    I agree with Valerie, the photos do say it all. The usual Establishment types. They’ve got a tough job on their hands trying to restore the reputation of the City. I imagine many of the bankers in the City don’t give a monkey’s what the 71% who answered the Consumer Associations poll think of them and their employers.

  14. Rowena Macdonald permalink
    December 3, 2012

    However, though I am cynical about the City’s ability to change, this was a fascinating post.

  15. the gentle author permalink*
    December 3, 2012

    So everybody, who’s going to stand? Because they are going to need a lot of candidates.

  16. William Taylor permalink
    December 3, 2012

    I guess the photos make us look like a boy’s club. We’re not – or, at least, we have no wish to be. What we want to do is give Londoners an opportunity to get involved in the elections to the City of London Corporation next March. The reason we are doing this is because we are concerned at how the financial services of the City of London do not seem to serve the Common Good – and this obviously includes those on low incomes (as mc mentions above). Too often it seems that this particular “golden goose” is laying toxic eggs. And also fouling its nest.

    In Spitalfields we see this with the threatened demolition of the Fruit and Wool Exchange on Brushfield Street for further offices as well as the impact that the pressure of rent and rate increases has on small businesses and people’s ability to live comfortably. We are not against the City Corporation and recognise that it does some things well. But we want it to show some discrimination over the product that it promotes globally – the financial services. And we think that this is partly the role of those elected to Common Council – hence our pledges.

    If you agree, why don’t you think of standing, or seeing if you qualify for a vote (by Dec 16), or endorsing our pledges, or getting in touch through the City Reform website? To develop our position we are also going to need some money and we welcome donations.

    William Taylor
    City Reform Group

  17. December 3, 2012

    As one of the women in the room Im not quite convinced on this ‘where’s the women’ thing. Firstly that was not the point of the day – I think we are all getting confused with another VERY important voting issue in the news (please yes put your anger and energies there).

    Secondly women were/are invited and attended, none of the seven pledges says ‘no women’.

    Thirdly …. isn’t it also good to see men standing up and being…. well… Men. Actually I mean MEN. Standing up for justice, standing up for change and asking tough questions. It made me terribly proud to be a women, in the room, cheering on a group putting themselves on the line. If it is a men club I say Go Men!

  18. December 4, 2012

    Great to see the city claiming back its ancient rights. historically it has been a protector of liberty against overbearing power of kings. To confuse the city of London with the banking city is a mistake that has gone on too long, I only wish I could stand for election in this first, for many years, return of democracy to what was one of our first democratic elections.

    Seeing the Church involved in this is also very reassuring, the CoE can only remain important if it becomes countercultural and challenges materialism and greed, although as a supporter of disestablishment I probably would say that.

  19. Isis permalink
    January 4, 2013

    Yes to Valerie, Joan, and Naomi. There must be binders full of women somewhere for this!

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