FOR centuries the City of London has been a law unto itself. The great fiction of political life is that all citizens are equal before the law.
If the rich and mighty, who gather each year for the Mansion House speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, really believed that their crimes of acquisition and omission would find them out they would hide themselves away in their tax havens rather than present themselves for a public celebration of their riches.
Instead they turn up, mob-handed, booted and suited, bemedalled and bejewelled to hear how the politician in nominal charge of the nation’s finances has ensured that the wealth which they have accumulated during the past year is to be protected from the depredations of the mob, insulated from taxes and rewarded for the “enterprise” they employ in their collective enrichment.
The power these people possess rests not simply in the wealth which they hold but in the ideological power they exercise.
The most telling illustration of this magical power that wealth confers on was given to us by Gordon Brown who, as Tony Blair’s chancellor of the Exchequer, found himself done up in his best suit before an audience of property spivs, bent bankers and city gents, their attendant lawyers and media mouthpieces.
He told an appreciative audience that they lived in “an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London.”
This he ascribed to own wise stewardship and fortitude in ignoring calls for greater regulation of City enterprise and banking. He shared with his audience – now intoxicated not just by fine wines but his adoring prose — that “we were right to build on our own light-touch system” which he described as “fair, proportionate and increasingly risk-based.”
When, soon after, the financial crisis gave capitalism a coronary crisis, the Iron Chancellor established the principle that when banks go bust it is not the “merchant adventurer” share owners who pay the price but the taxpaying hoi polloi outside the City gates. Socialism for the rich.
A social anthropologist might view the Mansion House gathering as something more than the ritualistic social display of wealth and status but additionally as an exercise in the male power that characterises the unbridled acquisition of wealth.
We saw a striking example of this in the way Tory MP Mark Field reacted when a woman — clearly unencumbered the symbols of wealth and status — entered this temple of privilege to voice concerns about the planet in which we all, rich and poor, live.
By any sensible account his action in grabbing his victim by the neck, forcing her against a pillar and marching her out of the banquet hall is an assault.
One thing every probationer police constable learns is how dangerous can be unauthorised methods of restraint and how a careful consideration of the possible outcome of any course of action is needed.
Field is a Foreign Office minister for Asia and the Pacific. We can be reasonably confident that in discussions with his opposite numbers in that complex political environment of powerful nations and leaders he carefully calibrates his mode of address and body language, subordinates his temper to his intellect and is mindful of the possible consequences of his words and actions. At least we hope so.
But in a closed environment on home ground where he is bonded with his peers in celebration of their collective class power the untrammelled exercise of physical strength and male power is his first resort. The personal is indeed political.
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