The new Lord Mayor of London has risked reheating last year's Occupy row by describing the St Paul’s camp as “dreadful” - accusing protesters of allowing the site to become a rat-infested obstruction to local business.
Roger Gifford, who was sworn in to the ceremonial role today and will carry out his first major duty tomorrow, leading the Lord Mayor’s Show through the streets of central London, said that anti-capitalism protesters had sparked “an important discussion”, but criticised the “terrible mess” created by their protest camp, which stood outside St Paul’s Cathedral for four months before it was dismantled by bailiffs in February.
“We were emphatically not against the protest,” the Lord Mayor told The Independent. “They weren’t very eloquent at the time at putting over their points, but what they were basically saying was: ‘We don’t like capitalism as it looks today, we want another system’. The response to that was: ‘Interesting, thank you for confirming that we should take a look at how capitalism works and how we can take it forward. That is a very important discussion.’ But the camp was dreadful. We did not like the camp and we would resist having any campers come back again. They made a terrible mess and they really affected businesses in the area.”
Mr Gifford, who has spent most of his career working at SEB, one of Sweden’s largest banks, is the first banker to take the role of the City’s main cheerleader in eight years. He was sworn in at the 800-year-old “Silent Ceremony” – a secretive event that always takes place on the Friday before the second Saturday in November – the traditional date of the Lord Mayor’s Show. He assumes the role in a year that has seen the reputation of London’s financial centre tarnished by the Libor rigging scandal and public resentment of the nation’s top earners intensify with the cutting of the 50p top rate of tax.
“I’m a banker,” Mr Gifford said. “I will come at the role from a banking angle. There have been some dreadful mistakes in the City and a huge number of changes have happened. But the vast majority of banks and the vast majority of bankers are not involved in those bits of the business which have seen some real problems. We’ve got into a global financial crisis – it didn’t start in London but we’ve been part of it and we’re working hard to get our way out of it.” He replaces the outgoing Lord Mayor David Wootton, a laywer.
Last month a Bank of England official praised the Occupy movement for helping to inspire a “reformation in finance”. Andrew Haldane, the Bank’s executive director of financial stability, said the movement’s voice had been “loud and persuasive”.
Mr Gifford said “the vast majority” of the work done by major banks in London qualified as “socially useful activities.” He also condemned the culture of performance related bonuses.
“Many of us in the industry have hated the whole bonus culture over the years,” he said.