Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Election of the Lord Mayor Monday 30th September

The right of citizens of London to elect their own Mayor dates from the Charter granted by King John to the City in 1215.  In the same year Magna Carta declared that London would retain all its ancient liberties.

I joined the procession of the Masters of all the Companies,all wearing their gowns and chains of office and we took our place in the front rows of the Great Hall, those of the Great Twelve proceeding as per custom onto the raised platform.

Whilst there might be no liveryman present in Guildhall not fully aware of the Lord Mayor designate for 2013/2014, the meeting of Common Hall for the purpose of the choosing and electing a Lord Mayor nevertheless retains all the vestiges of a democratic and open process.  Indeed no Lord Mayor would or could take office without the wide assent of the livery as expressed here at Guildhall. The fact that Mayoral elections are by custom not formally contested or disputed indicates some confidence by the livery in the discrete and careful process of selection.

At Common Hall, the Livery does not just elect a Lord Mayor.  They also have the prior privilege of selecting which of the eligible Aldermen who have served in the office of sheriff should progress to Lord Mayor this year or else in a following year - deferred for consideration on a later occasion.   For Fiona Woolf the hall echoed with the shout of "All" on taking the vote, whilst the two other potential candidates received varying support and the traditional call of "Later" - indicating that they would come forward again in future years. 

The varying and lesser indication of support for the other candidates is expected as of the three eligible candidates standing this year, two out of three must be selected by the livery.  The vote takes place in the absence of the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen who have passed the chair - they leave the hall by custom for the vote so as not to influence the result.  The Sheriffs together the Common Sergeant go into a huddle to decide on the basis of the voting which two names should go forward, and a formal final vote between two eligible candidates is taken privately by the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen outside of the Great Hall in the Print Room.   

To any livery observer it is a complex and convoluted procedure to reach a totally expected and predictable conclusion - namely the election of the second woman in London's long history to the office of Lord Mayor.  Nevertheless it holds the fascination of continuity and more than a nod towards maintaining an open democratic process.   Not that these processes or indeed the electorate have always been the same - we heard that over the ages there have been many changes and refinements to the procedures, and also some fairly recent innovations at the instigation of the Livery Committee - an amusing and informative address to the livery whilst the Mayor and Aldermen are out of the hall casting their votes.

After disrobing in the crypt, I emerged from Guildhall to sunshine. The wardens and I repaired to HQS Wellington for a well earned lunch at the invitation of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.  

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