Editor-At-Large: It's enough to make you head for the jungle

 
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yesterday I fled London as helicopters hovered overhead, mounted police thronged the streets and all traffic ground to a halt. I wasn't making my protest at the inconvenience or the disruption resulting from that annual charade known as the Lord Mayor's Show. I have another set of reasons for avoiding anything to do with an organisation run by ageing men who wear lace ruffles and silly uniforms. As his website reminds us, the Lord Mayor has led a parade to the Royal Courts of Justice to swear his allegiance to the monarch for hundreds of years. What was once a simple ceremony has ballooned into a "family day out" featuring more than 6,000 people in a parade that is three miles long watched by almost half a million people on the streets between Mansion House and the Law Courts and probably by 10 million on television all over the world.

Yesterday I fled London as helicopters hovered overhead, mounted police thronged the streets and all traffic ground to a halt. I wasn't making my protest at the inconvenience or the disruption resulting from that annual charade known as the Lord Mayor's Show. I have another set of reasons for avoiding anything to do with an organisation run by ageing men who wear lace ruffles and silly uniforms. As his website reminds us, the Lord Mayor has led a parade to the Royal Courts of Justice to swear his allegiance to the monarch for hundreds of years. What was once a simple ceremony has ballooned into a "family day out" featuring more than 6,000 people in a parade that is three miles long watched by almost half a million people on the streets between Mansion House and the Law Courts and probably by 10 million on television all over the world.

But is this the image of Britain that we ought to be promoting abroad? It's confusing enough having a high-profile, democratically elected Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and another Lord Mayor for the City of London, Alderman Robert Finch, both promoting their fiefdoms like power-mad, eastern bloc dictators. Mr Livingstone has used public spaces like Trafalgar Square for a wide range of new uses, from pop concerts to film screenings. He actively promotes London's bid for the 2012 Olympics, as something which will bring jobs, visitors and opportunities to the city at large. Ken Livingstone has introduced congestion charging and has a determined attitude to public transport. Ken loathes motorists, four-wheel-drives and pomp and ceremony - unless it's something he dreamt up as an "initiative".

Robert Finch, on the other hand, was elected by a court of aldermen, who in turn were elected by the 25 wards of the City delighting in such medieval names as Portsoken, Cripplegate Within, Vintry and Tower. The population of the City is tiny, and aldermen are often nominated by powerful guilds, many of which have halls within the Square Mile, for trades which have very little relevance to modern Britain whatsoever. Voters include sole traders and limited companies as well as residents. Of course the Mayor of the City of London has an important job to do in running local services and promoting the businesses within his domain. But do you not find it depressing that out of 25 wards, only one is represented by a woman? That's one female out of 24 men. And the Court of Common Council, consisting of 100 members elected by the wards, contains only 15 women out of a total of 100 members. At the last election 90 per cent of the candidates were existing members and their seats weren't even contested in a non-event where the turnout was only 29 per cent. The Lord Mayor's powerful team includes a chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, a chief commoner and a pageant master - all, not surprisingly, male. Our Lord Mayor is assisted by two sheriffs who are elected on Midsummer's Day by the City Livery Companies - no prizes for guessing which sex these jabot-wearing grandees are. There was much excitement last August when a woman was appointed as private secretary to the Lord Mayor - for the first time ever.

When I walked around the City of London last weekend, workmen were busily constructing stands and putting up barriers for a parade which features floats from banks, youth organisations and is led by the band of the Welsh Guards. The Corporation of London's website seeks out participants by telling them that 63 per cent of the spectators fall into the ABC1 category. In other words, the whole event is just an opportunity to sell stuff under the guise of history and pageantry. The Lord Mayor has pumped it up commercially because in doing so he emphasises his own importance. And allowing every lamp-post to be desecrated with a banner announcing "LONDON 2012 - MAKE BRITAIN PROUD" is just another example of an arcane and irrelevant institution hanging on to the coat-tails of a new bunch of campaigners in order to give it some contemporary relevance.

By the way, the slogan "Make Britain Proud" is one which makes me feel mildly nauseous. The Olympics is all about jobs, commerce and money and not at all about national pride. I cannot imagine that slogan means a toss in Teesside. But do we really need the premier city in Britain to be run by a bunch of men who undoubtedly promote their mates and operate like an arcane masonic society? At a time when the Government is keen to emphasise transparency and accountability, the City of London and its Lord Mayor operate like the Vatican or the higher levels of the Church of England. We've about as much chance of seeing a female archbishop as we have of electing a Lord Mayor who isn't one of the boys.

Achtung, baby

If Bridget Jones's latest cinematic escapade received a savaging from the critics last week (I loved it), they were at least unanimous in their approval of the musical based on Mel Brooks's classic comedy The Producers. It's been a huge hit in New York, but some friends there have found it crass and corny - how would I react, as a Producers fanatic who religiously used to trek along to the tiny Mayfair Starlight cinema in the 1970s for screenings where along with other deranged fans I would stand up and bellow classic lines out loud? Nathan Lane immediately takes you on a dazzling comedy journey where you soon forget Zero Mostel. Lee Evans, on the other hand, tries to turn Gene Wilder's role of Leo Bloom into a tick-ridden tribute to Norman Wisdom. Leigh Zimmerman as the gorgeous secretary is a dream. But theatre audiences are stolid beings, if you ask me. When it came to my favourite line of all time, "When you've got it, flaunt it!", the audience just tittered. I wanted to weep. At the heart of this highly entertaining show is a great big hollow, however hard you try to ignore it. There's simply no chemistry whatsoever between Evans and Lane, and when the latter returns to New York in January, this show will struggle.

* * *

¿ Mutton is delicious, and one of my favourite winter dishes is a slow-cooked stew, with plenty of pearl barley and root vegetables. Now this oft-shunned meat is being relaunched with a campaign entitled Mutton Renaissance. Top chefs are going to promote the virtues of mutton with a whole range of recipes, and mutton's rehabilitation kicked off with a swanky lunch held at the Ritz. Prince Charles took a break from visiting soldiers and bickering about seating plans at society weddings in order to attend and sing its praises. Of course he has a right to be concerned about the future of hill farming in Britain, even though many people would argue that overgrazing of moorland by sheep has destroyed much of our landscape. But more interestingly, our heir turns out to be patron of the Academy of the Culinary Arts. How did he qualify? Did he turn in a slow-cooked casserole or whip up a terrine? Somehow I can't imagine the royal hands have ever held a whisk, let alone sliced up an onion. He's more used to issuing orders to his chefs than actually practising the practical side of catering.

Comments