Occupy London: Holy smokescreen lifts to reveal true battlefield


While the pause button has been pressed on moves by the powerful City of London Corporation to evict protesters from outside St Paul’s, the smoke is clearing on what many expected would be the real conflict after the “phoney war” between activists and the cathedral.

Following the cathedral’s suspension of its legal action against the protest camp, the dispute is rapidly crystallising into a stand-off between opponents of Britain’s corporate elite on one side and, on the other, the Corporation, which is committed to backing the interests of “the City”.

Symbolically, the Corporation’s planning and transportation committee, which took the decision to go ahead with court action to clear 200 or more tents, has a high number of past and present employees of some of the interests that the camp was set up to challenge.

In terms of bankers, notable members include Roger Gifford, chairman of the Association of Foreign Banks, which represents all foreign banks based in London, and John White, an international banker who previously held a senior position at Lehman Brothers and recently retired as a senior executive at one of the US’s largest banking groups, the Toronto-Dominion Bank Financial Group.

The committee includes Tom Hoffman, a veteran international and investment banker; Oliver Lodge, a longstanding City professional with experience in investment management and regulation of the investment industry; James Pollard of asset manager Invesco Perpetual; and Paul Judge, a former director general of the Conservative party, who now chairs Schroder Income Growth Fund.

Other members are John Spanner, a former City professional who was head of group procurement at Standard Chartered Bank’ Robert Howard, who has worked in the City since 1993 at Charles Stanley & Co, one of Britain’s largest independent private client stockbroking and investment management firms; and Alan Yarrow, chair of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment and also of the wealth management group Kleinwort Benson.

The world of corporate and financial public relations is present. Past and present employees from that sector include Ian Seaton, who worked in financial public relations before becoming master of one of the City of London’s ancient trade associations, and Sophie Fernandes, an account director at Bellenden, which counts Canary Wharf Group among its clients.

Like the majority of City of London councillors, most members of the committee owe their seats not to the will of those who live within the city boundaries but to the highly unusual, some say anachronistic, voting system that extends votes to corporate interests.

While the few thousand residents of the City each have one vote, businesses have tens of thousands of votes between them, reflecting numbers of employees.

Reformers complain that there is no official requirement for companies to consult with employees in any way on the use of the votes.

When the vote was taken last week to pursue the eviction, the only dissenters were two councillors representing residents rather than companies.

One of the dissenters, Brian Mooney, told the Guardian on Tuesday that he had warned that going down the legal route “would hand the moral and PR high ground” to the protesters

He said: “A little bit of imaginative negotiation could perhaps have defused the situation and maybe even resolve it. My view was that the western free-market economy wasn’t going to be brought down by an encampment on the steps of St Paul’s, and although it’s a nuisance and is unsightly and has negative knock-on effects, actually in the greater scheme of things one could live with it.”

Mooney added that while the unusual electoral system by which councillors are elected “did not look very good”, and was in some ways an erosion of the “one man, one vote” principle, it still largely worked.

He also said most City of London councillors were “ordinary Joes” with a genuine desire to engage in public service.

Given the nature of the City of London’s primary industry, Mooney said it was also no surprise that there was a high number of councillors who had worked in, or continued to work for, financial services.


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