City of London faces direct electoral challenge to way it is governed
Bryn Phillips, a 32-year-old writer and community organiser, is to contest byelection for the Square Mile’s local authority
A direct electoral challenge to the way the City of London is governed is to be mounted this month by some of the activists and supporters of last year’s Occupy London protests at St Paul’s cathedral.
Bryn Phillips, a 32-year-old writer and community organiser in east London, is to contest a byelection for the City of London Corporation, the Square Mile’s local authority, and critics have accused it of using its statutory position to lobby for the financial services industry.
The challenge happens to come as a struggle has been taking place within the corporation over the implications of it continuing as the only local authority in England and Wales that makes no payment to its elected members.
That policy, say internal and external critics who describe the body as almost overwhelmingly white, male and middle class, chokes off diversity and means that the retired and wealthy find it easier to be involved as elected members.
However, an internal report presented to councillors this month revealed that, when asked, some 80% of those who responded were not supportive of a change of policy “and felt that the matter should be dropped”.
The issue has now been put on ice, although critics of the corporation believe that the policy of not paying members could be open to a legal challenge.
Phillips, who is running in Farringdon Within, one of 25 wards in the City of London, could not be more different from the current crop of corporation councillors, whose elite are steeped in the ancient traditions, societies and conventions of the City.
A charge of violent disorder stemming from last year’s English riots could yet result in Phillips, a protege of the Labour peer and long-time City critic Maurice Glasman, going to jail when the case is heard later this month.
In the meantime, however, observers believe Phillips is in with a chance of delivering the first foothold in the City of London for campaigners who want to radically transform it. The relatively small electorates for City of London elections mean that seats can be won and lost with just a handful of votes.
Elections also differ markedly from those elsewhere in other respects which, critics charge, makes organised challenge to City consensus all but impossible. Firstly, businesses as well as individual residents of the City can vote. Secondly, political parties are not involved, leaving candidates to stand alone as independents.
“I’m convinced that democratic reform of the City of London is the best way to start addressing the problems we face in our banking system,” said Phillips, who hopes anger over the Libor scandal will boost his chances of election on 26 July.
“We need more transparency at the heart of the City. We need to square up to vested interests. Clearly, there is a lot that is wrong in the City of London, but I believe that instead of finding yet another straw-man to demonise – while things just carry on like before – the system itself needs radically overhauling.”
His three rivals in the byelection include Trevor Brignall, the chairman of the Marketors’ Trust, which draws funding from one of the “livery companies” and the guilds that represent various professions and enjoy special voting rights within the City of London Corporation.