(London’s other mayor) The Lord Mayor of London

Were you aware that London has two mayors?

London Focus

Aside from Boris Johnson, there is another mayoral position, that of the Lord Mayor of London. The process of electing the Lord Mayor is a complex one, so here we’ll attempt to decipher it in simple detail.

The title of Mayor of London has existed since the 12th century, however it once held a lot more power. Technically, the Lord Mayor only presides over the City of London, but that doesn’t mean they are governed separately from the rest of the capital. The role, to put it simply, is that of an ambassador for UK businesses, in particular promoting the City as a key centre of finance to the rest of the world. It is a complementary role to that of the Mayor of London, who has the strategic power (i.e. makes the decisions, like hiking up the cost of tube fares). Instead, the Lord Mayor travels to meet with business dignitaries - roughly 100 days a year are spent abroad- and has to make frequent speeches to the media, business people and politicians.

The position is unpaid, and furthermore the Lord Mayor is expected to make a contribution from his or her own personal resources. So why would someone take on a responsibility of this scale without any monetary compensation? In a nutshell, the Lord Mayor will typically be the head of a large company. His or her duty is to represent UK businesses, involving liaising with many business leaders in related sectors, both at home and overseas. This means plenty of important networking opportunities and the chance to broker new deals.

Another perk might be living at Mansion House for a year; this has been the home of the Lord Mayor since 1752. The house is really a palace, grand enough for entertaining assorted dignitaries and VIPs.

Political parties are not involved in any stage of the election process. Several candidates are nominated by the Livery at Common Hall, and the Lord Mayor is voted for by the Court of Aldermen. Eligible candidates need to have served as Sheriff, who in turn need to have been members of the Court of Aldermen. Confused? That’s understandable.
\n\nThe role of Sheriff is far less important than it used to be, as now a key duty is entertaining judges on their lunch breaks during sessions at the Criminal Court of Justice. Again, the role of Sheriff is restricted to the City, and is chosen annually by the Liverymen, who are senior members of trade associations based in the City.

The Court of Aldermen, a group of 25 men who choose the Lord Mayor, were responsible for governing the financial heart of London up until the 14th century, however nowadays it’s their task to approve new livery companies and grant Freedom of the City to people like Barbara Windsor, which in the case of the latter is mostly a symbolic act.

The Lord Mayor is chosen every November, on the second Friday of the month. The actual voting event is called ‘the Silent Ceremony’ as there are no speeches save for the new Lord Mayor’s, and voting is done with a show of hands. In suitably archaic fashion, the newly chosen Mayor is handed a sword, a cape and an ornate staff known as a mace.

The following day the new election is marked by a rather less formal event, a procession between Bank and Aldwych where the Lord Mayor gets to wear his new outfit. Around half a million people turn up every year to join the parade, which follows the new appointee travelling in a horse-drawn coach to the Royal Courts of Justice. The day usually culminates in a fireworks display, however in 2012 this was cancelled as it was felt that after the Olympics and the Jubilee, London was suffering from firework fatigue (the financial implications will no doubt have had something to do with it too).
\n\nAside from the duties already mentioned, the Lord Mayor automatically becomes Chancellor of City University, Chief Magistrate of the City of London, Admiral of the Port of London, and President of the City of London Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. The list goes on, but in practical terms they entail the odd guest appearance and/or speech.

There has been just one female in the position in its 800 year history, Dame Mary Donaldson, who was also the first woman to become an Alderman and a Sheriff. She refused to be referred to as “Mayoress”, preferring to use the same title as her male counterparts, and anyone who used the wrong title was fined £1, which was donated to the NSPCC.

So what does the CV of a Lord Mayor typically look like? Judging by the credentials of past delegates, a healthy career running businesses and supporting charities seems to help. The most famous was perhaps Dick Whittington. A successful wool merchant and investor as well as a philanthropist (and from a well-to-do background, contrary to what the popular story says), he was also a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. Dame Mary Donaldson on the other hand was a nurse, and John Wilkes, elected in 1774, was a politician and a radical activist, although in those days this meant introducing parliamentary reform and not scaling the sides of buildings for the purposes of protesting.

Aside from this, consider the numerous appearances, meetings and campaigning required of the job, so a talent for public speaking and networking is a must. It’s certainly not a job for the shy and retiring.

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