The City and me

Last week (9 October) I stood for the first time in the City of London elections in Castle Baynard ward that stretches from Fleet Street to Blackfriars, taking in St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a 3-week whirlwind of a campaign. The by-election was called as one of the Common Councilmen in the ward was elected as an Alderman elsewhere and created a vacancy.  There were 8 of us contesting one place.  

My fascination with the City started way back when I landed my first real job as an articled clerk in the City firm of Norton Rose and then working as a solicitor involved in securitisation and cross border finance.  My renewed interest in the City came about when I tried to get on the board of governors of my sons’ independent school.  No parent governors there.   It was all in the hands of the Worshipful Company of the Mercers.  This then led me to investigate the intriguing world of Livery Companies, only to discover that membership of the Mercers was closed (at least to me). 

I persisted in my enquiry and 6 years ago joined a newer and more welcoming livery company, that of the World Traders in the year that Mei Sim Lai OBE DL became Master, the first Master of Chinese heritage in the City’s 800 history!  Yes that would be the livery company for me.

Most are familiar with the historical beginnings of London as a Roman walled city, and of the  importance of the square mile today, but very few know how it is governed.  Of how, to be eligible to stand as one of 100 Common Councilman, you have first be admitted to the Freedom of the City.  Or that the Lord Mayor who is elected by the Livery Companies each year to promote investment in the City has to be drawn from the 2 Sheriffs who, in turn, must have first served as an Alderman of one of the 25 wards.  Or that, by convention, Party politics does not play a role in City elections.  That is until recently, when Labour fielded candidates in the 2013 elections in a few wards where there were more residential voters. 

So despite being a Liberal Democrat, I obediently shed my party colours and stood as an Independent, only to be trumped by the Labour candidate.  But I have since been advised by others more experienced in the ways of the City of London Corporation, that come 2021, the Independents will triumph in the all-out elections.  So watch this space, as they say.          

* Merlene Emerson is an Executive member of LibDems Overseas.

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  • Labour stood as Labour & won, we should always stand as Liberal Democrats whatever convention says.

  • Merlene Emerson 16th Oct '18 - 2:32pm

    Whether we field candidates as independents or flying the party flag begs the question of whether LibDems even have a position on the City and its governance in the first place. Is the City better off the way it is currently governed by convention by professionals and corporations without interference from politicians, or should party politics be introduced?

    The secondary question then is whether one would stand a better chance of getting elected as a LibDem or as an Independent. I understand that at the all-out elections (in 4 yearly cycles) the Independents tend to stand as a slate in each ward.

    The City does need to be reformed so that it is less of an old boys’ network and be made more diverse and inclusive, but it would be easier to change things from the inside (imho).

  • marcstevens 16th Oct '18 - 6:36pm

    I agree with paul, fly the party colours not an independent one.

  • Laurence Cox 16th Oct '18 - 6:41pm


    Both our 2015 and 2017 manifestos identify the unbalanced economy as a major issue to be tackled. The money for the major infrastructure investments has to come from the City, so its governance is clearly a matter that concerns the Party even if it is not spelt out explicitly in the manifestos. I also question how independent these other ‘independents’ are; could they just be closet Tories?

  • Merlene – I love your passion for the city. BUT if we want to achieve Liberal Democrat progress, we should stand and campaign as Liberal Democrats. Labour seem to have abandoned these conventions in the city and it would appear that the voters quite like it. Why are we letting them have the monopoly? I hope you stand as a LibDem next time and win.

  • paul barker 16th Oct '18 - 7:08pm

    The City as it stands is an affront to Liberal & Democratic values, the rest of The UK got rid of Business Votes in 1951. Its no accident that so few real Voters live in the City, it was their policy to squeeze them out until recently.
    What a Liberal Democrat Government would do with The City is a discussion for another day, the simplest solution would be to put it under the control of The GLA with an Elected commitee to represent the Voters who live there.
    Our policy should be to stand everywher we can & always as ourselves.

  • I never failed to be impressed by the sheer energy of Merlene and hats off for taking a crack at breaching the edifice that is the City of London Corporation. She would make a great Alderman.
    If the corporation is not yet ready for the whirlwind that is Merlene, there is always the Inns of Court. THE government of the Inns of Court is vested in the Benchers or ” Masters of the Bench.” The Masters are elected by the Bench of each Inn from among the members who have attained a certain standing in their profession.The inner temple or middle temple are extra-parochial areas and open to solicitors transferring to the Bar.

    Because of its accumulated wealth and responsibilities the City of London Corporation has a number of officers and officials unique to its structure who enjoy more autonomy than most local council officials, and each of whom has a separate budget. The City Surveyor, provides guidance to combine the fund management of a major central London commercial property portfolio extending to over 16 million square feet of space, with the management of the City’s 600 operational properties stretching across Greater London, including Guildhall, The Mansion House, and Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey). A perfect place to demonstrate the benefits of Land Value Capture for the public benefit.

  • Hi Merlene.
    Well done for trying to break through in the City both as a Chinese woman and as a Democrat. As a Green I find the City un-democratic and anti- environment a very toxic combination. So keep persevering and I hope that you can bring a bit of much needed transparency and care for the environment to the City. Good luck.

  • Stand as a Liberal Democrat 🙂

  • Stand as a Liberal Democrat. As you are one, it’s misleading to the electorate to pretend to be an independent. Also, we should take every opportunity to fly the flag.

  • I stood in a by-election for my village parish council as a Liberal Democrat. I believe it was the first time ever someone stood on a party political label. I also got criticised in the local press by the chair – who also happened to be the chair of the local Conservative association! So I am strongly in favour of people standing under a party label. And I believe even at parish council level I bring a Lib Dem approach to things.

    But… one should realise @Peter Kemp and @Tim Hill that there are councils – parish and also some higher tier councils where the tradition is that people do not stand on party labels or many stand as independents and we should respect that and it is certainly not misleading.

  • @David Raw

    I am sympathetic to your point of view as my story shows – indeed I won the by-election against an independent who was the chair’s preferred candidate – I don’t know whether he was a Tory or not.

    Equally I have known a parish council were essentially everyone was elected on a party political label and perhaps that was actually to its detriment. I have to say that I would have a little difficulty in pinpointing a precise Lib Dem viewpoint on the maintenance of street lights or provision of play equipment. But i believe that there can be and of course it is a question for the electorate.

    A further downside of party political labels is that it is so often means that people vote on national lines rather than considering local issues.

    My feeling is that masonic influences MAY be strong in some councils where everyone is elected on a party political label.

    My understanding is that there were a lot more independents on local councils and over time that has been eroded. My understanding is that it is still quite strong in certain areas – Cornwall, West country, and may be parts of Wales and Scotland.

    Most people who stand as independent will have voted in the General Election for one of the main political parties I am not sure one should force people to stand on that label if they don’t want to.

    BTW – the Castle Baynard result was:
    LAB: 27.8% (+27.8)
    IND (Malins): 21.3% (+21.3)
    IND (Raja): 13.4% (+13.4)
    IND (Emerson): 13.0% (+13.0)
    IND (Rounding): 10.1% (+10.1)
    IND (Humphreys): 8.3% (+8.3)
    IND (Oliver): 4.3% (+4.3)
    IND (Becker): 1.5% (+1.5)

    via and the actual votes
    @NLloydOwen 77 votes (elected)
    @JulianMalins 59 votes
    Alpa Raja 37 votes
    @merleneemerson 36 votes
    @VRounding 28 votes
    Richard Humphreys 23 votes
    @deb_oliver 12 votes
    @Charmingtoff 5 votes


  • Michael 1,

    If Masonic influences were a significant factor in the Castle Baynard elections surely the chap (or chapess) with the moniker Charming toff would have garnered a greater number of votes than 5.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Oct '18 - 8:54am

    From my earliest time in politics I was taught to refer to independents as Condependants. Often individuals stand as independents because they haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of being elected as Tories. And of course these are the people who always refer to critical comments as being ‘political’.
    Tony Greaves suggested to me that there are also some independents who he referred to as ‘bloody’ independents, but in my experience these are the minority.
    Always stand under your party colours. To do otherwise is dishonest.

  • @Paul Barker surely rather than a committee of the GLA for the City given that almost as many ‘city jobs’ are surely now days located in Canary Wharf incorporating the City with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets…

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