Local Elections: City of London upholds role as island of electoral calm: Martin Whitfield finds polling day to mean little more than business as usual in London's Square Mile

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(First Edition)

All around, voters were busily going to the ballot box yesterday to deliver their verdict on local government performance.

But within the boundaries of the City of London it was business as normal - no political excitement apart from a general interest in the fate of the Government.

The Corporation of London remains an anomaly. In one sense it is extremely democratic, with elections every year in December. And it is the only place left in Britain where businesses have a vote, outnumbering residents by more than two to one. Business partnerships, sole traders and directors or employees who hold a property interest are all entitled to vote, although limited companies are excluded.

Michael Cassidy, chairman of the policy committee of Common Council, believes that the system works in that it gives some influence over the affairs of the City for companies that contribute pounds 700m in business rates: 'It's no taxation without representation. We have been quite keen to extend the franchise to limited companies but every time we have raised it with ministers it's not been well received.'

Many attempts at reform have been fought off in its 800-year history, and the last Royal Commission to consider London's civic government concluded in 1960: 'If we were to be strictly logical we should recommend the amalgamation of the City and Westminster. But logic has its limits and the position of the City lies outside them.'

Labour Party policy is to see the Corporation of London abolished in its present form. It might re- emerge as part of a new authority for the capital but the business vote would disappear.

Twelve of the City's 25 wards have fewer than 10 residents eligible to vote, and in only three, located around the Barbican estate, do residents outnumber business voters. The resident population of 4,886 registered voters has increased by 1,088 this year after parts of the Golden Lane estate petitioned the Boundary Commission to be transferred from Islington, and further changes to the boundary included a small section of Tower Hamlets.

Even so, there is not expected to be desperate competition for the 107 seats as commoners of the Common Council. An average of four or five of the 25 wards result in contested elections, although last year saw polling in 12 seats as market traders in Smithfield launched a campaign over restoration plans. Political parties are non-existent.

David Biddle, ward clerk for Aldersgate, one of the largest residential wards, said that candidates would stand a realistic chance of success only if they had some clear identification with the Barbican residents' association.

The turnout at election time is about 25 per cent, roughly the same as the inner-city wards of surrounding London boroughs. 'There is usually a contest. They will have a manifesto and will go round the Barbican canvassing before the election,' he said.

Voting in Broad Street ward is more rare, about once every eight years, according to Martin Radcliffe, ward clerk for 30 years, who supervises the democratic process for nine resident electors and 149 business votes.

Candidates tend to emerge from City clubs and business links. 'They do try and represent the residents and have an interest in what goes on in the City,' he said.