The (Secret) City of London Part 2

The City of London is a unique place -- it's the city in a city (in a country in a country) that runs its government with perhaps the most complicated elections in the world involving medieval guilds, modern corporations, mandatory titles and fancy hats, all of which are connected in this horrifying org chart.  Why so complicated?

Though the new Skyscrapers might make you think the City of London is relatively young, it's actually the oldest continuous government on the Island of Great Britain.

The City of London predates the Empire that Victoria ruled, the Kingdoms Anne united and the Magna Carta that John, reluctantly, signed.

While the London which surrounds the city only got to electing its first Mayor in 2000, the list of Mayors who've governed the City of London is almost 700 people long going back more than a thousand years.

The City of London's government is so old there's no surviving record of when it was born -- there are only documents, like the Magna Carta, which mention the pre-existing powers the City of London already had at that time.

While a government like the United States's officially gets its power from the people, and Parliament gets its power from the Crown, (which in turn gets it from God), the City of London gets its power from 'time immemorial' meaning that the City is so old, it just is.

And that age brings with it unusual and complicated traditions, the most notable of these, perhaps, is that in city of London elections, companies get votes.

Quite a lot actually, about 3/4th of the votes cast in City elections are from companies with the remaining 1/4th from residents.  The way it works is that the bigger a company is the more votes it gets from the City of London.  The companies then give their votes to select employees who work, but do not live, within the city and it's these employees who do the actual voting at election time.

The result is that the Common Council, the bureaucratic beating heart of the City of London, has about 20 common councilors elected by residents of the city and about 80 elected by companies of the city.

The reasoning behind this unusual tradition is that for every 1 person who lives in the City of London, 43 people commute in every day.  In total that's 300,000 commuters using City services and whose employment depends on the City of London being business friendly.

The man in charge of the common council and who heads The City's government is The Right Honorable, the Lord Mayor of London.

Now, suppose you want to be Lord Mayor,

Surely, just as in that other London all you'll need do is

a) Be a British, Commonwealth, or EU citizen, who has

b) lived in the city for a year, and who

c) wins the election

Right?  No, in The City of London, that's not nearly enough.  Ready for the qualifications list?

Before you even run for Lord Mayor you need have been a Sheriff of The City of London.

But before you can be Sheriff, you need to be an Aldermen.

What's an Aldermen?  Well, the City of London is divided into 25 wards, and each Ward elects one Aldermen to represent it on the Court of Aldermen -- a sub-section of the common council.

Before you can run for Alderman, you need to gain Freeman Status... and who gives out freeman status?  Why none other than the very Court of Aldermen you're trying to get elected to.

Which might just seem like a conflict of interest.  Luckily there is another way to get the freeman status -- join one of the City's Guilds -- sadly, they aren't called guilds, they're called Livery Companies (a name which is both more boring and less descriptive), but the remnants of medieval guilds many of them are and within the City there are 108 of them to choose from including, but not limited to,

The Apothecaries

The Fishmongers

The Masons

The Mercers

The Scientific Instrument Makers

The Bankers

The Shipwrights

The Wheelwrights

The Butchers,

The bakers,

Two different candlestick makers,

and the most exciting of all: The Chartered Accountants!

Many of these guilds, like the Fletchers, have become charities, but some are still active, such as the Goldsmiths who test the quality of British coinage and the Hackney carriage drivers who license taxi drivers.

To join one of these guilds you'll either need to meet the professional requirements, or for the charities like the Haberdashers you'll need the approval of two existing members, others won't tell you how to become a members.

If, you meet none of the Livery Companies membership requirements, but you think you'll be a clever clogs and start your own Livery Company and grant yourself freeman status, tough luck because new Livery Companies need to be approved by, you guessed it, the Court of Aldermen.

But let's assume one way or another you get the official freeman status certificate, now you can finally run for Aldermen of a Ward -- after the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee also approves of you.

But, that small barrier passed, you can win election as Aldermen in either one of the 4 wards where people live or the 21 wards where companies live.

Once on the court of aldermen to continue your path to the Mayor's Office in Guildhall, you must now be elected as sheriff, but this time it's the members of the Livery Companies who pick the sheriffs.

So if the Livery Company members elect you as Sheriff, after you have successfully completed your term then you can finally run for Mayor.

But, surprisingly the, residents of the City of London don't vote for the Mayor, our old friends on the Court of Aldermen do.

So in summary, once you get freeman status from either the court of aldermen or the livery companies and after your ward elected you as alderman and then the livery companies elect you as sheriff and after your term as sheriff ends but while you're still on the court of aldermen then you can run for Mayor.

And -- assuming the other aldermen select you, finally take your place as The Right Honorable, The Lord Mayor of London -- for one year, with no salary.  And you have to cover your own expenses, which will be quite considerable as your new job consists mostly of making hundreds of speeches a year around the world promoting city business.

But you do get that fancy hat, which just might make it all worth while.

Special Thanks

Econe Fine Jewelry, for the use of  their image of the Freeman of the City certificate and to the Museum of London and Michael Warnken.

Selected Sources


amplifieduk, louisephotography, herry, damo1977, g4egk, shelleylou2000, stewc, Sam Winters, Econe Fine Jewellery, idleformat, richardfisher, neutronboy, kachkaev, Diliff