I’ve been posting on my politics blog (1 | 2) about Maurice Glasman’s essay Labour as a radical tradition (from a new collection of essays (PDF) from the so-called “Blue Labour” camp), but there is one point Glasman makes that I wanted to share here, as it is of wider historical interest.

Part of Glasman’s argument is that “in order for there to be a redistribution of power it is necessary to confront unjust concentrations of power and wealth” – including, in particular, the City of London. He gives a perspective on the status and history of the City that I’d never really thought about before (p.32):

The Corporation of London, for example, is an ancient city, founded by the Romans, established as a commune in 1191, a status it retains to this day.

Indeed, Wikipedia points out that London’s earliest surviving charter dates from 1067, when “William the Conqueror granted the citizens of London a charter confirming the rights and privileges that they had enjoyed since the time of Edward the Confessor”. Glasman continues:

It is unique among great European cities in never having grown in size and never being absorbedby the population that grew around it, or by the state.

As one of the four pillars of the ancient constitution it remains a partner to Parliament (as well as the monarchy and the Church), but not subordinate to it. As it survived the Norman Conquest unconquered, it has preserved the status of the freeman, democratic hustings, its guildhall, indeed, its guilds.

I had never really thought about the City in those terms. But as Glasman continues, we can’t get too misty-eyed and sentimental about this last survival from pre-Conquest England:

The only problem is that this most ancient of cities represents the interests of capital alone and is immune to the charms of the common good. Skilled workers are not permitted to join their ancient institutions of economic self-regulation. Only in April, the last recognised workforce of the City of London, the Billingsgate Porters, were abolished, leaving capital as the only inheritor of our civic traditions.

Glasman’s argument is not, however, that the Corporation of London should be abolished. Rather:

One important part of Labour’s renewal as a party of the Common Good would be not to abolish the City of London but to extend its ancient liberties, democratic rights and its significant inheritance to all the citizens of London.

But that’s bringing us back towards practical, party politics. All I wanted to share here was that fascinating and rather moving idea of the Corporation of London as a last hold-out from Anglo-Saxon England – and the tragedy of its capture by finance capital.