Invictus: Is it time to abolish the City of London Corporation?

1 Feb

Invictus is unable to use their real name because of their employment.

Scrapping the City of London Corporation has been a popular left-wing demand for decades.  Various Labour figures have railed against “Britain’s last rotten Borough”, which John MacDonnell described as “the dark heart of predatory capitalism.”  Conversely, Tories have tended to take a benign view of a quaint institution steeped in tradition, albeit one with questionable democratic legitimacy.

Unfortunately, the City authorities seem determined to change that by alienating both the Government and the majority of Conservative voters by handing over swathes of policy making to the radical left.

The stereotype of the Corporation as the exclusive preserve of plutocratic pinstriped gents with Masonic tie pins and golf club memberships hasn’t been the reality for many years, but it was the fallout from the Black Lives Matter protests that revealed just how far the City has been captured by the Guardian-reading bourgeoisie.

Rather than getting on with their day jobs, City grandees rushed to respond to BLM by setting up a Tackling Racism Taskforce. Its composition was instructive: a blend of council members and officials including a barrister from Doughty St Chambers, a former Principal Diversity Officer for Brent Council, the ex-Head of Communications for the Labour Party under Ed Miliband and a council member, also affiliated to Labour, who urged people to join BLM demos in the midst of a pandemic.

Unsurprisingly this taskforce, notable for its lack of ideological diversity, has now produced a set of recommendations that include removing historic statues on the grounds that they may have a connection to slavery. It follows the now familiar activist playbook of branding objects or events ‘problematic’ or ‘contested’ as a prelude to demanding remedial action.

The mania for ‘decolonising’ means that there is hardly a historical figure whose attitudes and activities would bear examination. One group or another could choose to take offence at almost anyone. Should the statue of Oliver Cromwell be removed from Parliament on the grounds that Irish people might be offended?  What about Edward I, the so-called ‘Hammer of the Scots’, perched above High Holborn?

Absurd?  Yet this is the reductive logic behind the City of London bigwigs voting to remove a statue of Sir John Cass, the son of a carpenter who rose to become an MP, Sheriff of London, founder of a school for poor children, treasurer of a hospital and builder of churches. He died in 1718, a much revered figure.

Yet, according to the taskforce, he must now be pilloried for his involvement with the Royal African Company which traded slaves at a time when the practice was almost universally accepted. Incidentally, the founder of the RAC was Charles II, so presumably the statue of the Merry Monarch, aptly situated in Soho Square, will also be placed on the hit list in due course.

Fortunately, Cabinet ministers have made it clear that this Year Zero approach to Britain’s heritage is unacceptable. Oliver Dowden has said that “the Government does not support the removal of statues or other similar objects.”

Historic England, the Government’s adviser on the historic environment, has said that removing difficult and contentious parts of it risks harming our understanding of our collective past.

This common sense approach cuts no ice with the bien pensant bureaucrats of the City of London. Their woke groupthink reflects a broader move away from the City’s winning formula of economic dynamism and proud conservatism. Despite its shift to the left, the Corporation does not yet believe that profit is a dirty word, but appears to be less sure about patriotism. Only a bowdlerised and politically correct version of Britain’s past is acceptable, it seems. Ideologically-driven revisionism demands that the heroes of bygone days be recast as villains.

If this is the path the City of London Corporation is determined to take – reinventing itself in accordance with the morality of the Guardian and thumbing its nose at the attitudes of the majority – then perhaps it would be better to take this cultural revolution to its logical conclusion by abolishing the thousand-year old Corporation itself and folding its functions into Westminster City Council. After all, the British people might reasonably ask, if you won’t respect our traditions, why should we respect yours?