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City of London

ALDERMAN POSTPONES DATE FOR HIS RE-ELECTION

The election for alderman in Cripplegate Ward has been postponed....
 
David Graves, the alderman for Cripplegate Ward (which covers Golden Lane Estate and part of the Barbican) reached the end of his six year term of office on 17 June 2020.
 
The archaic conventions that govern this archaic public office require that upon the expiry of the term of office of an alderman, he or she submits a “letter of surrender“ to the Lord Mayor. The letter is then placed on the “summons” (= agenda) for the next meeting of the Court of Alderman, so all the aldermen "can consider whether to receive it”. 
 
When asked, Alderman Graves explained that his “letter of surrender” did not appear on the “summons” for the meeting of the Court of Aldermen on 10 July because he had not submitted it. That was because: 
 
“given the current CV-19 concerns and limitations, I decided that to trigger a 42 ... day electoral process now would be inappropriate and unsuitable for the good conduct of a fair election.”
 
But his submitting a “letter of surrender“ would not have triggered the 42 day electoral process. The letter would first need to be “received” by the Court of Aldermen. The Covid crisis is one of the few situations imaginable in which the Court could justifiably defer the start of the electoral process - but for no longer than necessary. Should not the time at which the electoral process starts be a matter for the Court of Aldermen to decide, rather than the alderman whose term of office has expired and who seeks re-election?
 
.... but postponed until when? 
 
When asked about the timing of the election, Alderman Graves observed that the Policy and Resources Committee had agreed to recommend to the Court of Common Council that elections for the City’s 100 councillors, due to be held in March 2021, be postponed to March 2022.
 
The members of the Policy and Resources Committee agreed to make that recommendation because they were concerned that the turnout of the City Corporation’s (unique and undemocratic) business vote in March 2021 would embarrass the Corporation by being even lower than usual. They were concerned that City businesses might be even less inclined to register to vote this autumn than usual, due to the Covid aftermath. (The majority of City businesses are so uninterested in the Corporation that 60% of them didn’t bother to register last year, before Covid was an issue.)
 
The election for alderman in Cripplegate, if held before February 2021, will be held on the basis of the “ward list” (= City electoral register) that was compiled last autumn, pre-Covid, so the rationale for postponing the councillor elections due in March 2021 does not apply to it.
 
Regarding a date for that election, there seems to be no good reason why the electoral process cannot begin this September. Many voters use a postal ballot anyway. Those who do not could register for one. The City Corporation could spend some of the unused £70,000 it set aside for a campaign to encourage more business registration this year on facilitating postal registration. For voters willing to attend a polling station, and if conditions allow for one to be open at the relevant time, social distancing would be much easier to achieve than in a shop or pub.
 
Alderman Graves responded by saying:
 
 “offering voters a choice between registering for a postal vote and disenfranchisement is to my mind undemocratic and wrong”.
 
So is it democratic and right to offer voters no choice as to who represents them as alderman until such time as the incumbent, whose term of office expired a month ago, unilaterally decides when to seek re-election?
 
The secrecy of the aldermen
 
Two other elections for aldermen fall due within the next six months. The term of office of Alderman David Wootton (Langbourn Ward) expired on 19 July and that of Alderman Patricia Scotland (Bishopsgate Ward) expires on 8 December.
 
We know that the aldermen were due to consider the three forthcoming elections at the meeting of their General Purposes Committee (to which they all belong) on 10 July. But we don’t know what they decided. That’s because they won’t tell us, and their meetings and papers are secret - even from City councillors. The one insignificant exception is that formal Court of Aldermen meetings are held in public, but they typically last for only a few minutes and deal with routine matters like approving applications for Freedom of the City.
 
This extraordinary secrecy is a problem. Some organisations that are closely associated with the City Corporation, such as livery companies and certain masonic lodges, meet out of public view, but do not exercise public functions. Aldermen do, and the “Principles of Public Life“ - which include “openness” and “accountability” - apply to them as much as to any other holder of public office. 
 
The best solution to this problem is simply to abolish the archaic and superfluous office of alderman. But that is likely to require government intervention. While the office of alderman still exists, the basic democratic imperative should at least be met of holding elections as soon as practicable after they fall due, and by appropriate means.
 
Hopefully whoever is elected as the next alderman for Cripplegate will represent voters to the Corporation, not the other way round, and will campaign for real change to the Corporation.
 
The process for that election should be begin as soon as practicable, i.e. this September. 

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Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on August 1, 2020 at 12:27

Dear Jacqueline,

As Graeme said in his initial posting, the proposal to postpone the 4-yearly Common Council elections to March 2022 was made because of concerns that the registration of voters for the 2021 Ward Lists (work on which will begin shortly and will be finalised as at February next year) will be distorted by the CV-19 pandemic. 

In the light of the most recent concerns over a resurgence of CV-19, that is an understandable concern. I can see arguments on both sides of the fence here, and if it were my decision to make, I would be tempted to wait and see how the Ward List renewal shapes up, in the hope that the electoral registrations will pass muster and that by next March it should be possible to resume normal electoral practice. That said, for all I know there may be legal or other reasons why my "wait and see" approach could not work - but that would be my plan A.  

Needless to say, the timing of the Common Council elections is not my decision and I can understand why the Policy & Resources Committee has make the recommendation to postpone to March 2022. 

I have said throughout this discussion that my touchstone for holding an Aldermanic election in Cripplegate is that a fair and safe election can be held. I remain of that view. Logically, that could not be any later than the date when Common Council elections resume, whether the 4-year cycle elections or, potentially, by-elections. I would regard any such date as a "long-stop" and I would not rule out an earlier date. 

Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on August 1, 2020 at 11:17

Dear Alderman Graves

Could you let us know whether you agree with the proposals to postpone the Common Council elections until 2022? And if so why?

Under what circumstances would you consider submitting your letter of surrender?

Many thanks

Jacqueline

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on July 27, 2020 at 16:36

Graeme - this is turning into a dialogue between you and me. I think everyone reading these exchanges will realise that the chances of you and I agreeing on these issues is small to zero. 

For all Graeme's intimations of secrecy, he has attended many "secret" meetings, in the sense that the public are excluded from them. I don't exhort him to breach his duties of confidentiality because I know better than to do so, and Graeme knows better than to allow himself be persuaded to do so. So I won't try. So, Graeme, nice try, but I won't try to make you happy by betraying my obligations. 

And, if it will make Graeme happy, I am not "refusing" to offer a letter of surrender, I am "deferring" it to a time when a local election will be both safe and fair. I think that is a good thing. My views regarding a September election are clear, so I won't repeat them. 

I will repeat the lack of consistency by my critics about the Mayoral and GLA elections. Is the proposition that those elections are too "important" to take place in September (or Cripplegate's not important enough)? Either elections are fair and safe or they aren't, and I don't want my electors to be anyone's guinea pig (or petri-dish, more appropriately). Even London-wide elections break down into much smaller units based on electoral districts, so I don't see my comparison as inappropriate or unreasonable. 

In terms of explaining myself, I feel I have done as much as anyone reasonably could. If that is not enough for some, so be it. 

Comment by Graeme Harrower on July 27, 2020 at 15:40
Alderman Graves has written in his most recent comment that: “Graeme seems to accept that a refusal [of Alderman Graves’ letter of surrender by the Court of Aldermen] could be seen as reasonable in current circumstances.” What I wrote was (emphasis supplied): “The Covid crisis is one of the few situations imaginable in which the Court [of Aldermen] could justifiably defer the start of the electoral process - but for no longer than necessary....there seems to be no good reason why the [42 day] electoral process cannot begin this September.” There was no ambiguity. 
To address another of Alderman Graves’ themes, there is no reasonable comparison between:
- the postponement at the height of the Covid crisis by Parliament of Greater London elections involving hundreds of candidates and millions of voters, and
- the postponement during the Covid recovery phase by Alderman Graves of a single City ward election involving Aldermen Graves plus probably no more than a handful of other candidates and hundreds of voters.
Finally, Alderman Graves has written: “you have maximum transparency with the buck beginning and ending with me, and me alone.” I can think of no democratic electoral system in the world that would allow the individual holder of a public office to postpone unilaterally the date of the next election for his office - except, it seems, the aldermen of the City of London. I can also think of no democratic system of government in the world in which holders of public office conduct all their substantive business in secret meetings - except the aldermen of the City of London. Since Alderman Graves favours “maximum transparency”, will he tell us what his fellow aldermen discussed at their secret meeting on 10 July about the elections for aldermen this year? 
Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on July 27, 2020 at 12:10

The comments show that some people want an election asap, and dismiss in my view rather glibly the practical (and possibly legal) difficulties involved in fixing an election date in the short term (eg for a September election). I don't understand why it is so important to have a Cripplegate election asap when it is apparently fine for the Mayoral and GLA elections to continue to be postponed until next May. Fine, the decision to postpone was made as Paul says at the height of the pandemic, but if as far as he is concerned we are now in an "all clear" phase, why is the continued postponement of the Mayoral and GLA elections perfectly acceptable? 

People can want what they want, but if they are being inconsistent and illogical, they might find resistance, and understandably and rightly so, in my opinion. 

In a similar vein, as Paul says, people are taking overseas holidays, and those returning from Spain now will need to quarantine for 2 weeks. Today's press reports that France and even Germany may be heading towards a second wave. People are cancelling overseas holidays, and not just holidays to Spain. But we can still go to the pub, after "signing in" so is everything fine, really? I don't think that pub or gym owners will be saying it is business as usual - many people are staying away from pubs and gyms because of Covid concerns. 

As for being disrespectful, I have always been respectful to and of people, and I am sorry if my attempt at humour (we wait ages for a bus then several come all at once) made Jacquie feel I was being disrespectful. Please bear in mind that I took time to address the comments made and to deal with them from my perspective - I respect all of you enough to engage with you and address your comments here, even if it looks as though we will not agree.

The "second wave" of comments to my mind have not really taken matters forward - by which I mean none of the comments lead me to the view that I should do all in my power to procure an asap election, eg one to be held in September. 

As Sue says, residents can make their own decision about the risks of voting in person or by postal vote, but if the outcome could be that people who would ordinarily have voted do not vote, is that democracy? 

Graeme Harrower is correct to say that (theoretically) the Court of Aldermen could refuse to accept a letter of surrender. I say theoretically because I suspect there is no precedent for this, so the legal consequences could be unclear and debatable. However, Graeme seemed to accept that a refusal could be seen as reasonable in current circumstances. So, my question back is whether if that happened, those wanting an election asap would be content? Presumably, those of you wanting an election asap would be just as unhappy if the Court of Aldermen refused to accept the letter of surrender. Should I write a letter of surrender expecting that it will not be "received" by my fellow Aldermen. And if that means the electoral process is stopped, what happens next? Do I need to wait, still in post, to be told when my fellow Aldermen will "receive" my surrender of office, thus moving the electoral process to the next stage? As it is, you have maximum transparency with the buck beginning and ending with me, and me alone. 

I think the time to ask who will be the candidates for an election is when we know that an election is going to happen, not now. However, if anyone wishes to declare their intention to be my successor, they should feel free to do so. 

And finally, apologies to Graeme for misreading his £70,000 comment. That said, I wonder what the electoral process costs the City Corporation, ie how much money would potentially be wasted if a new lockdown meant that an election process had to be stopped in its tracks, eg a week before polling day. Or should it go ahead, come what may? I still believe that it is wrong to force people to either register for a postal vote or face disenfranchisement. 

Comment by Graeme Harrower on July 27, 2020 at 10:52

Alderman Graves has written in his comment on my blog that “If the election [for alderman in Cripplegate] would...cost £70,000 (as Graeme says)...”. It would not cost £70,000, and I did not say that it would. What I wrote was: “The City Corporation could spend some of the unused £70,000 it set aside for a campaign to encourage more business registration this year on facilitating postal registration.” There was no ambiguity. 

Comment by Sue Pearson on July 27, 2020 at 10:02

This is a very simple question about democracy. 

The decision to hold any election should not be made by one  individual - particularly one who has held the office concerned, whose term has expired and who wants to be re-elected. Residents can make their own decision about the risks of voting at a polling station or using a postal vote instead, which a large number do already. No one needs to be, or would be, disenfranchised. Arguments about micro management bear little weight. If the Corporation cannot organise a small ward election safely, how can it deliver on its claim to aid the national recovery?

Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on July 26, 2020 at 20:50

Alderman Graves

You are being glib about a serious matter. In fact you're being extraordinarily disrespectful - what is it you are implying when you compare resident comments to buses? I spotted the blog earlier in the week but like many of my neighbours needed to time to digest and get to the weekend so I could think clearly about my response.

I agree with my neighbours that elections should be held as scheduled, and in fact with some effort I believe there could be a higher than usual turn out. The issues that we have had to deal with due to the pandemic has placed the Corporation and our elected members under scrutiny - voting is a key way of making our feelings clear. 

Before I express any further opinion I'd like to be more fully informed about the actual electoral process. Could you please confirm whether your 'letter of surrender' would actually trigger the 42 day electoral process? If not, as Mr Harrower suggests, then surely there is no reason for you to hang onto your office? I am minded to agree with him that the timing of when the electoral process starts should be a matter for the Court of Alderman to decide and not yourself, an individual. Will you be seeking re-election?

Comment by Paul Lincoln on July 26, 2020 at 20:24

David

The mayoral and GLA elections were postponed at the height of the pandemic. The decision was taken in March for elections that were due to take place in early May. It was understandable that action had to be taken quickly as there were few areas of public life whose revised workings could at the time be anticipated. This is certainly no longer the case. The Prime Minister has recommended normal return to work from 1 August, many people are taking overseas holidays and there has been a high level of adaptation to the new way of doing things. It really would not be difficult for the COL to leaflet people in this relatively small ward setting out how the postal voting system works. Equally, it is really not at all difficult to run a socially distanced voting system. It is interesting how enterprising residents have been in setting up the food bank and in setting up emergency COVID-19 aid systems across the ward. It impresses me that in the space of about a week, my neighbours had organised volunteers in every block in Golden Lane Estate and a complete system to ensure that people supported each other.  There is a great deal of social capital and connectivity in this part of London, this needs to be appreciated and valued.  It could also help the democratic process..........

Comment by David Graves (your Alderman) on July 26, 2020 at 19:57

At the risk of seeming glib about a serious matter, I wondered how long it would take for anyone to comment on Graeme Harrower's views, posted here a week ago, and after over 300 views I see two posts appearing in rapid succession today, rather like buses.

It is a fact of life in politics that you can't please everyone all the time, and faced with a choice between starting an electoral process now versus delaying the start, yes, it is true that I decided to delay. As I understand it, the London Mayor elections have been postponed for a year, so I don't accept that my position is either an "excuse" (as opposed to a valid reason) or undemocratic. Or at least, if you think it is undemocratic, then I assume you have complained in similar terms to Sadiq Khan and to your London Assembly member (the London Assembly elections have also been postponed to next year). 

The largely residential Ward of Cripplegate has a large number of elderly people some of whom remain nervous about going outside and who feel inhibited about reasserting many of the freedoms to travel and the like that we all took for granted not so long ago. Many voters in the Ward are not registered for a postal vote and I think it is wrong to "disenfranchise" them by requiring them to register for a postal vote or else lose their vote. 

While in theory I could imagine a socially-distanced polling station (x2 for the Ward), we have to think about practicalities - do we ask voters to bring their own pencil to mark the ballot slips with, does the voting booth need to be wiped down after each vote, etc. Do we have a virtual Wardmote? How do we address those who might be excluded by a vitual Wardmote? What about door to door canvassing, delivering election materials and so on. It might actually be in my interests to hold a "snap" election now.  

As for holding the electorate in contempt - really? Can you guarantee how an election now will be both fair and safe? And if you say not now, but September, how is your crystal ball working at the moment? Better than mine, I would say, given the legitimate concerns regarding a second wave - which I hope won't happen but Spain, for example, is heading that way. If the election would have cost £70,000 (as Graeme says) do we start the process on the basis it might have to be halted in a second lockdown scenario - or do we say register for a postal vote or lose your vote. And would that even be legal? I suspect not.

The reality is that local elections right across the country have been postponed by a year for good reasons. I have explained some of them, but if you are in doubt ask Sadiq or Unmesh about how you think that they are holding their electorate in contempt. Please post their responses here.

To Billy, I am confused by the logic of your comment about the perception of intentions. You imply that I should act dishonourably in order to appear to be honourable. That doesn't work for me. 

What I want for my voters is a safe and a fair election. As for "the court" if you mean the Court of Common Council, it is very likely to decide that the Common Council elections set for March next year should be deferred by a year to March 2022. As such, I can hardly see any sensible court (I assume you were not referring to a Court of Law) looking askance at me and selectively taking me to task for keeping in line with the rest of the country. 

I'm afraid the issue may have to be one where we simply disagree on the right way forward, but I appreciate your frankness and I have never objected to challenge. Challenge is a healthy thing in a democracy.  

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