Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Rogue State Within This State

Neoconservatives and libertarians are not really "Tories", anyway.

But I once succeeded Mark Clarke, not merely as a tenant of the same house, but even as the tenant of the same room; during his time in it, I was effectively his landlord. Alex Deane and I have mutual friends. He and I have always got on when we have met, which admittedly has not been for some years now.

I had an exchange on Facebook with one such mutual friend last Friday evening, after I had bemoaned what is colloquially known as the Two Tories Rule on Any Questions, at that moment being given effect in the persons of David Willetts and Alex Deane, making it, in fact, a Two Neocons Rule. Just as my interlocutor was protesting that he was, as I am, an Independent, Alex declared himself a member of the Conservative Party, within which the two of them serve on the same Ward Committee. In the City, in fact.

(Based on one of last night's efforts, how, exactly, are Any Questions panellists selected? Merely being "Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham" does not seem like much of a qualification. It is not even the position of any parochial incumbent, of whom there are thousands. The lady thus styled, a member of the General Synod, had obviously been invited in the expectation of naked triumphalism after That Vote. No one asked her why more than a third of the House of Laity, the doctrinal veto of which is rather amusingly now the last safeguard of Anglo-Catholicism but by no stretch of the imagination does that constituency approach 36 per cent of the total, had instead rejected the crowning victory of the Anglican women clergy's widespread doctrinal doubt and disbelief, their extremely high levels of divorce and of remarriage thereafter, their artificially exaggerated numbers due to their often being more easily accepted for ordination, their greatly reduced formation requirements if they plead "family commitments" or what have you, their pronounced aversion to parish ministry, and so on, and on, and on.)

However, confirming and consolidating everything that I told you about right-wing "Independents" and about UKIP both in relation to the PCC elections and in relation to Corby, and blowing out of the water the hope of UKIP as somehow a High Tory and paleoconservative organisation, Bryn Phillips writes: 

Whoever the genius is who thought of One Nation Labour, I take my hat off to them. Because what this divided country desperately needs is rebalancing. I’m excited because the emerging philosophy surrounding One Nation sums up the aspirations of people like me: the aspiration for a new political settlement; the aspiration for flexible, functionalist policies that lower our dependency on the sprawling bureaucracy of the state; a longing to revive older ideas about civic society, community and relationships. A Labour party of national unity sounds very attractive. A Labour party that’s different, but better.

Now, I have always believed in Ed Miliband. That’s why I voted for him. But regardless of whether or not he ends up jangling the keys to Number Ten in 2015 – one thing looks certain: the Tories will keep the spare set to Number Eleven, for in the policy power-house of the Corporation of London, right wing pressure groups – like the sinister-sounding Young Britons Foundation (YBF) – have found a unique way to influence government. Arguably, since 2009 they’ve been building a right wing state–within–a–state.

The City of London Corporation, the British local authority located at the geographic centre of Greater London, is one of 33 local authorities in the capital. It’s also extremely rich and powerful. In the shape of the square mile, big business – and most particularly finance, have the most ancient political institution in the kingdom at their disposal. But lately things have been taking a turn for the worse. There is an enemy in our midst. Uniquely [not quite, but never mind for now], elections in the City are conducted on a non-party-political basis. You can be nominated by a party, but this is discouraged – not a single City Councillor in office today got there on a party ticket. There isn’t a single Labour party member in sight. However, while candidates effectively describe themselves as independents on the ballot paper, behind the scenes the truth is far more partisan.

Recent research shows that many City Councillors are members of the Tory party involved in more than just the occasional bit of jam-making. Of the Tory members on the City Council, half are powerful political players within the inner ranks of the Conservative establishment and many also figure high up in the hierarchy of the controversial YBF. YBF (which launched in July 2003 in Washington D.C) has said it aims to “import American political techniques into the UK.” The controversial training organisation enjoys links with American neo-conservative movements, think-tanks and foundations – leading even some Tories to question its funding. Alarmingly, YBF members are on record arguing for the abolition of the NHS, in favour of water-boarding – and even more worryingly, Chief Executive, Donal Blaney, has described the YBF as “a Conservative madrasa”, seeking to radicalise young people.

So it’s of some concern that just before the last general election this fanatical organisation made major inroads into the City of London. If you want proof of this, then look no further than Common Councillor and UKIP member, Matthew Richardson. He’s a prominent member of the YBF leadership and has been growing increasingly powerful within the City establishment. Having just been elected as an Alderman, he’s tipped as a future Lord Mayor, and he’s got some interesting friends. Count failed Conservative parliamentary candidate, Mark Clarke, among them. He has a lot to thank Richardson for. He co-funded Clarke’s City election campaign earlier this year.

Clarke, who is linked to Conservative MP David Moore, also enjoys connections with the anti-NHS zealots of the YBF, and is a key player in its management. A notorious hospital smearer, Clarke was called ‘a liability’ by the prime minister and effectively kicked out of parliamentary politics when an aborted NHS smear was exposed by the Daily Mirror in 2010. Disturbingly, he claims to be ‘non-party’, but a recent examination of his electoral expenses revealed a glowing anomaly.

Investigations showed that the client code on the remittance slip for Clarke’s electoral printing – CON 097 – in fact pertains directly to the Conservative party. Not only that, but Clarke’s electoral brochures and letterheads were printed by Tory-owned printers – Metloc, the firm responsible for the majority of the Conservatives electoral printing in the south east of England. Odd for a ‘non-party’ candidate, no? Doesn’t this raise serious questions for ‘non-party’ Clarke and the Conservative party to answer – if, as looks likely, his electoral printing was put through on the Tory books for some reason?

However, the conduit of influence doesn’t stop there.

Lobbyist, Alexander Deane, is a key figure on the Tory right and also sits on the YBF management board. This ‘non-party’ Common Councillor is a former chief of staff to David Cameron. Truly independent, huh? Then, there’s Jeremy Mayhew – another ‘non-party’ Common Councilman and Tory party member. He’s employed in a regulatory role at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. When you take into consideration the significant chunk of Councillors like Paul Judge – former director general of the Conservative party, John Fletcher – Tory Libertarian opponent of the living wage, and characters like Conservative Home writer, Sophie Fernandes – the barely disguised right-wing takeover of the City of London is clear as day.

So how can this charade of Tory Councillors masquerading as ‘non-party’ be in the interests of the common good? Well, here’s another way of looking at it: Imagine the newly elected Independent Police and Crime Commissioners were discovered to be right wing Tories with serious access to government and working for the Tea Party on the sly. There would be national outrage. This whitewashed YBF coup is sort of what’s happening in the City, and it has the scent of strategy about it.

Shouldn’t these City Councillors now answer questions about why they mask their allegiances from the electorate on polling day? Indeed, how can any of this posturing, this ideological coup d’etat in the City be in the interests of the common good? The answer is: it’s not. Not by a long shot. The conduit of influence between the Tory City and Whitehall means you can kick the market fundamentalists out of government but you can never kick them out of power. How democratic.

The political right, fearing that they would eventually lose the war of ideas, has been preparing itself to engage in a guerilla struggle from the confines of the square mile for years. This is common knowledge. In this way, the City hides behind the illusion of a non party system, when the truth is it is a one-party system, increasingly manipulated by right wingers like the YBF. Scary.

Yet you have to hand it to them: they couldn’t have chosen a better time for a takeover. The Corporation is now more powerful than it has been for a millennium. It’s never been wealthier. Forget the E.U. If you’re concerned by a loss of popular sovereignty and corruption, then the City of London, with its right wing sleepers on the benches, makes Brussels look like utopia.

This is the reason that democratic restoration of the City of London Corporation would be good One Nation policy. To deny the Tories and the YBF an institutional lobbyist rooted at the heart of the British State would provide a good starting point for Mr Miliband to expose the shallowness of David Cameron and the hideousness of his one-sided nation. I look forward to that. One Nation, One City. The alternative to reform, of course, is that when Labour form the next government, economic policy will remain under the dominion of the Libertarian Tory sleepers in the square mile. This is not some false fear. If our Ed neglects to address reform of the City, he may end up in Number 10 – but the Tory madrasa will remain in residence, effectively squatting next door’s spare room. And that would be a far worse coalition than the schizophrenic shambles we have now.

We need One Nation Labour, which is why the City needs to change. But believe me: this dream will remain unrealised unless something gives in the square mile. And because ultimately, there’s nothing One Nation about a rogue Tory state–within–a–state.

Since 1999, I have been a Parish Councillor where there are about nine thousand people in an area which, excluding outlying hamlets and farms, is about one mile square. I am pleased to say that we have lots of businesses. But there is absolutely no suggestion that those businesses should have votes, still less that those votes should be greater than the votes of real people.

Unless the Miliband Government is going to exact particularly sweet revenge by making the Square Mile a Ward of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, then the City of London needs a City Council, a London Borough as the City of Westminster already is, with each ward electing three Councillors as elsewhere in London, and with each year's Chairman serving as Lord Mayor. An ideal opportunity to use the system that we all urgently need for municipal elections above Parish or Town level, whereby each of us would vote for one candidate and the requisite number, never fewer than two, would be declared elected at the end.

All the pageantry and all the charity could and should remain. Such an inheritance is very common in local government. Have you ever been to Durham? The City could remain its own ceremonial county, since the link between those and municipal arrangements was cut all the way back when an unprotesting Margaret Thatcher was in the Cabinet.

And the existing wealth of the Corporation, a fine old word for this sort of thing, would also be retained, in addition to normal sources of funding. Do they pay business rates in the City? They do not seem to pay very much else. But they would. For there would be no more state within the State; at present, the Queen is forbidden to set foot in the Square Mile without special permission. Still less would there be any inability to tell which state was which.

1 comment:

  1. Your tweet linking to this has been retweeted:

    Sensible stuff as ever from dunelms @davidaslindsay. The @cityoflondon will benefit from reform... not revolution.

    Retweeted ... by Mark Clarke!