City Reform Group
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.
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