Guildhall -- Common Council review
Here's a pub quiz question for you: how many Mayors do we have in London? (Nobody ever gets this right.) One? Two? If you think the answer is two then you're wrong, because the correct answer is thirty four. We have the Lord Mayor of London (covering just the City of London), another one for the City of Westminster, plus the actual Mayor of London who works out of City Hall (the one we vote for every five years). Then we have another Mayor for each of the thirty-one London boroughs. So that's thirty-four of the buggers -- enough Mayors for an orchestra.
The one we've come to see today is the best one: the Lord Mayor of London. That's the one who gets to ride around in a golden carriage at the Lord Mayor's Parade. Lots of people think it's just a ceremonial position but inside the City he's only got one boss: the Queen. And I mean that literally. Inside the Square Mile he even outranks the Prime Minister!
What I love most about this role is his wages: he doesn't get paid a penny. He's not in it for the money, and he's not in it for the power (he's only there for twelve months) -- he's there to represent the interests of the City (which basically means the businesses within it). For twelve short months he's allowed to live in Mansion House and swan around in a big limo but after that it's goodbye: he gets booted out and replaced by the next guy (or gal). That's how all politics should work. If you told the Westminster MPs they'd be skint after a twelve month stint they'd never even consider it.
Underneath the Mayor comes the Court of Common Council (25 Aldermen and 100 Common Councilmen), and once a month they all gather together for a big meeting at the Guildhall. That's where we're going today.
What you need to do is turn up twenty minutes early and stand on the Guildhall forecourt. Look to the left and you'll see a strange building that looks like a concrete pepperpot. Head through the glass door to the left of that. Once you've emptied out your pockets and passed your bag through the scanners you need to turn right round the corner and head down the corridor to the Great Hall. If you've never seen this room before then prepare to be impressed. It's one of those rooms where you suddenly stop walking as soon as you step through the door. The walls of this room are six hundred years old and have ancient livery banners hanging silent from the ceiling.
The meeting doesn't start until 1 PM but I've done my usual thing and turned up too early. It's 12:40 PM at the moment and I'm the only member of public in here. It's just a few waiter-like people walking around the tables arranging the microphones and filling up the jugs and glasses of water. Every now and then one of the Councilmen comes in and gets greeted with a very formal handshake and a "hello, sir" and gets shown to their seat behind the barrier. This goes on for the next twenty minutes as the place slowly starts to fill up. You can tell that something important is about to happen by the way everyone is chatting. They're all checking their hair and that their top buttons are done up. It feels a bit like a wedding, sitting here. The public are the groom's distant relations, filling up the cheap seats at the back, whilst the Councilmen are the bride's nearest and dearest, all suited and booted and chatting happily at the front.
A couple of barristers have walked in now, still wearing their black gowns and white wigs. They're bounding up the aisle balancing a stack of black boxes and armful of folders against their chest. Another guy has roughly stuffed his papers under his arm, then under someone else's arm, then, oh sod it, he says, and just drops them on the seat so he can give a hearty two-handed handshake to some bearded bigwig in a black bowtie. It's all networking now. Suddenly the hubbub has started and a hundred Savile Row suits are filing in from the back and the volume has been turned up to eleven -- it's nearly showtime (it's 12:55). The public seats are still half empty, but the benches are buzzing at the front.
At 1 PM a sudden hush comes over the place and the Lord Mayor parades in wearing his ceremonial robes and chains, followed by a cacophonous clapping that carries him all the way to top table where he takes off his tricorder hat.
The mood shifts in an instant because we go straight into a minute's silence for the victims of the Manchester bombing. It sucks all the excitement out of the room and soon we are as still and silent as those hanging flags on the ceiling.
After that they wade straight into the business of the day, which covers such riveting subjects as appointments to the commerce committee, the hospitality plans for an upcoming conference, and an update on their traffic circulation consultation.
I'm going to be totally honest now and admit that after five minutes their words just merge into one long drone, like a never-ending motor turning-over in the road. You have to concentrate on their face to keep their words going in, otherwise your eyes will start staring at the statues and stained glass windows. By the time your eyes shift back to the speaker you'll discover that you've missed five minutes of their speech. Presumably you heard every word of it but you won't have any idea what they said. Even the Councilman looked bored: you can see by their blank faces that their bodies have gone into hibernation mode. When we started there were just ten stone statues in here, but by the time we finish there are another hundred more.
Don't let the boring meeting put you off coming here, though. Even if the discussion is rather dull it's worth sitting through forty minutes of it simply to see inside the Guildhall -- that's how impressive it is.
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