Letter: History of the undemocratic City

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with interest your article on the way the City Corporation is using its undemocratic powers to block the legitimate election of an alderman dedicated to the much-needed reform of the City of London ("Aldermen accept blackball ruling", 20 September). The City of London has long been run by a small clique of rich City financiers in their own interest.

This sordid tale of oligarchy manifested itself as early as the 17th century, when the City refused to take over responsibility for the expanding suburbs and used its financial muscle to bribe Charles II to prevent the building of a second bridge across the Thames. In the Georgian period, the City prevented the formation of a unified police force and delayed the formation of the desperately needed new docks in the East End.

More seriously, the City blocked the formation of a London-wide governing body for centuries. By the 19th century the situation was critical, with inadequate parish governments failing to solve infrastructure problems and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths by cholera.

When the call for a London County Council grew to a crescendo, in 1887, the City set up a committee to fight these calls. It spent large sums to misrepresent public opinion. Its methods included bribery, the foundation of bogus organisations, the dissemination of false press reports, and violent and abusive behaviour to those in favour of reform.

In the 20th century the City has been more subtle, but it has continued to act against London's interest. Following the war it was guilty of destroying one of the world's most beautiful urban skylines. We now have the absurd office-building race between Docklands and the City, in which the City continues to build unnecessary offices in order to prevent the leakage of financial jobs to Canary Wharf. The City's anti-IRA "Ring of Plastic" was erected without consultation with the surrounding boroughs or the people using the routes the City arbitrarily cut off.

While the City constitution is so undemocratic, the Lord Mayor and his oligarchy will continue to act to the detriment of London and the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Flude

London, E5

20 September