Nick Shaxson ■ Party politics pierces City of London for first time in centuries
William Campbell-Taylor, an Anglican priest who featured heavily in the final chapter of Treasure Islands (except in the US edition,) has become the first political party candidate ever to win a seat on the common council of the City of London. That’s a record that stretches back a thousand years, to the emergence of the City of London Corporation (or at least till the start of its ‘modern’ electoral machinery, which emerged in the 13th Century.)
Taylor stood on a Labour Party ticket – and this has created quite a commotion in these circles, with headlines such as the (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) The Reds, the Reds are coming and the City mouthpiece City A.M. backing an attempt to ridicule Taylor.
The Financial Times explains:
“The City authority fiercely guards its tradition of independent councillors, arguing that its freedom from the hurly-burly of party politics allows it the latitude to make decisions in the long-term interests of the financial services hub.”
Two things need saying about that paragraph. First, Edmund Burke had a way of looking at the importance of political parties in elections, which is very, very different from that of the City of London.
“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
Which is a fundamental and eternal truth about politics. It helps explain why the there is so much voracious corruption in the tax haven of Jersey, where political party politics is viciously opposed by the Establishment, and many an independent candidate has fallen in the contemptible struggle of the politics of a financially captured state.
Another aspect of this (accurate) Financial Times summary, of course, is worth repeating: “freedom from the hurly-burly of party politics allows it the latitude to make decisions in the long-term interests of the financial services hub.”
And that is exactly, precisely what I described in Treasure Islands as the hallmark of the captured state. Finance needs the particular kind of stability which means it must be insulated from domestic politics. Democracy is the enemy. Big Finance must not be disturbed. As I note in Treasure Islands, referring to the general phenomenon of tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions:
“Just as European nobles used to consolidate their unaccountable powers in castles, to better subjugate and extract tribute from the surrounding peasantry, so financial capital has coalesced in these fortified nodes of unaccountable political and economic power, capturing local politics and turning these jurisdictions into fast and flexible private law-making machines, defended against outside interference and protected by establishment consensus and the suppression of dissent.”
The City of London is a supreme example of political capture. And this political capture is an important, even central, aspect of the Finance Curse.
So Taylor is to be congratulated on piercing this gargantuan example of political capture: the FT quotes LSE professor Tony Travers as calling this a “minor revolution.”
This won’t spread through the City of course: Taylor is just one of 100 councillors, and only four wards have meaningful residential populations where it’s possible that such things will happen. In the rest of the words, the corporations that do business there get voting allocations – which means voting in the interests of the City.
We can be sure there will be many who will denigrate and attack Taylor, and his job won’t be easy. But he will have a lot of people standing behind him – because, as he says (and knowing him personally, I have faith that he means it:)
“We want to use the ancient institutions of the City for the common good.”
There will be many people in the City of London who will not like that at all. Taylor is quite used to the brickbats, of course, as he described in 2012, when he had the rudeness to ask an impertinent question:
“The City embraces this medieval ceremonial in the Square Mile but throughout the rest of the world, in its unwavering commitment to deregulation, economic liberalisation and the logic of the bottom line, it is responsible for the dissolution of all non-market practices of solidarity and association?”
To which he received a demand for an apology for his ‘rudeness’ in the Chamberlain’s Court. To which Taylor replied, in turn – once again pointing to the captured state problem:
“what I thought was a ceremony rooted in the deliberative traditions of the folkmoot turned out to be a ritual induction into keeping your mouth shut, a kind of omertà for the interests of the capital markets.”