Friday, 23 March 2012

Power, Finance and Democracy: Is The City Good for London?

I stood in for Jenny Jones last night at an out-of-constituency hustings event in the City at the Bishopsgate Institute.

As with previous years, the Mayoral election is likely to be dominated by those issues which the Mayor’s Office has most direct control over: transport, crime, economic development, housing and the environment.

However, over the last four years the biggest political issue for many people has been the global financial crash and prolonged economic recession. Given that London and its financial services industry have been at the epicentre of this turmoil, the hustings was organised to focus on the role of its banking sector, on the impact it has on London’s economy and the influence it has had on the politics and governance of London – whether through the Corporation of London, the Mayor’s Office or national government.

Nicholas Shaxson, well known for his acclaimed investigative books Poisoned Wells and Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World. (2011) - introduced the event with a quick summary of the negative impact of the City on London, the UK and indeed the rest of the world. As well as representatives from the other three main political parties, Tamasin Cave (a Brixton resident) from SpinWatch the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (ALT) was on the panel, along with Chris Cummings, TheCityUK's Chief Executive.

Howard Dawber, Strategic Advisor at the Canary Wharf Group since August 2004, Ken Livingstone’s ‘Business Advisor’ was there representing Labour.

Issues under discussion included the drain that the city exerts in terms of talented people, from other industries and the public sector as well as how to tackle growing inequality in London, and the way that credit can reach local communities and SMEs through credit unions and other more localised banking services. We also predictably covered the political influence of the City, the approach that a mayor could take to the Financial Services Industry and the need to abolish the City of London Corporation, and bring it to the same status as other London boroughs.

I drew quite a bit on what I have written for the Guardian around these issues. But what I was particular struck by was how the Green Party is the only party which seems to really be tackling these issues in terms of concrete policy proposals. For example, a Fair Pay Mark, to build on the London Living Wage which has had significant success getting £60m into the pockets of the lowest paid, and the GLA using its significant financial clout to consider the practices of banks and other financial services when considering tenders for its banking services and sponsorship.

The event was very well attended, with clearly lots of interest in the subject. A before-and-after-debate vote was held, which was extremely encouraging for those of us with a more critical approach to the City, showing that opinion had shifted that way during the evening. There was also a large amount of positive feedback after the event, with several people coming up to tell me they were now considering voting Green - including a number from Lambeth and Southwark.

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