Since it’s finals week, I doubt that anyone has been reading the news from Britain too closely, but if you have been following along with things, you might have been confused by references in the papers this week to “The City.”
A few days ago, the EU tried to come to an agreement on a new financial relationship for the 27 member nations so that Europe could navigate its way through the Eurocrisis, but UK Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed the deal, leaving the other 26 countries to form an agreement between themselves. There are differing opinions on the wisdom of Cameron’s move: the veto certainly represents a step away from the European Union for Britain, a step that right-wing Tories are celebrating as a step in the right direction, while the centre and left see this as a shortsighted move that will hurt the UK’s economy and diminish its political influence considerably beyond the short term. Cameron has offered a number of explanations for why he was forced to use a veto for the first time in EU history, but his main rationale is that the deal on the table refused to make exceptions for The City of London.
What you should know here is that Greater London is a huge city – nearly 8 million people living in about 600 square miles – but that the City of London itself is very tiny, only about 1 mile square with just 11,000 inhabitants. The City is, in fact, the old walled city that the Romans built: Londinium was first established in 47 AD, and became quite a big center before long. (In 200 AD when the wall was built, it had a population of around 50,000.)
Nowadays, the square mile of the City of London is where Britain’s financial industry is centred – only 11,000 people live in this little enclave, but 330,000 people work there. And so when David Cameron says that he’s interested in safeguarding the good of The City, what he really means by this is: the banks. “The City” is the British equivalent of “Wall Street.”
The City of London, we might also note, is governed by The City of London Corporation (sometimes just called “The Corporation.”) The Corporation is not the same as the municipal government of Greater London; it’s the government of just the City itself, that tiny little island of money in the middle of the real city where real people live. And as you’d expect, with its enormous wealth, The Corporation wields tremendous political power, and primarily represents the interests of what we now call “the 1%.” Can you imagine what it would mean if Wall Street had a government body all to themselves? (Oh wait, isn’t that the Republican Party?)
Anyways, when Cameron decided this week that he would risk pulling the UK out of the EU, severing ties that have taken decades to develop, he was doing it to safeguard the interests of the 1%. When we discuss the Occupy London movement next term, you’ll see that the protesters here have focused much of their attention on The Corporation, calling into question whether The Corporation deserves all of the powers that it carries in the current system, and whether it wouldn’t be better to subsume The City more responsibly within British politics as a whole through new legislation.
OK, enough talk! Here’s Nick Lowe with a fantastic B-side from 1976, a song to make us think about the heartlessness of The City in the heart of the city.