Obsolete Appendix? The City of London's Struggle for Survival

In the second of our article on Governing the Capital, Ian Doolittle argues that it was during the great reforming Liberal ministry of Gladstone in 1880-85, that the City of London came nearest to being voted out of existence

Lord Mayor Livingstone? How incongruous it sounds! Yet there is nothing inherently implausible about the democratically elected leader of the Greater London Council taking the lead in London's ceremonial affairs. There is no logical reason why County Hall should not be the focal point of the capital's civic life. Instead it is the Square Mile, the City of London Corporation, which captures the limelight. Guildhall is the place where the Prime Minister speaks and the nation listens. Why should this still be so? There was once a time when the City was London, but for three centuries or more it has been steadily enveloped by the mushrooming 'suburbs' outside its ancient walls. Why did it fail to take responsibility for these extra-mural inhabitants and why, in turn, has it not been shouldered aside by those new authorities, such as the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council, which took up the task which the City shirked?

The answers have little to do with logic. As a Royal Commission on London's government said in 1960: 'Logic has its limits and the City lies outside them'; and as Disraeli remarked, with characteristic cynicism: 'This country is governed not by logic but by Parliament'. The explanations, needless to say, are to be sought in that compound of Chance and Self-Interest called History. For 150 years radicals and reformers have been attempting to excise what one of them called the 'obsolete appendix' from London's body politic. The recent calls from the Labour Party and Ken Livingstone's Socialist group on the GLC for the abolition of the City 'as a separate unit of local government' and its absorption 'into the adjacent London boroughs' stand in a long tradition. As long ago as 1854 it was said that the City 'cannot survive the year; the last Lord Mayor's Show has been given; the stage coach is bespoken by Madame Tussaud; Gog and Magog doing duty as humble firewood will frown no more over turtle and champagne'.

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