Too scary radical, they say about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Well, not really. Just ask the Worshipful Whatnots in the Corporation of the City of London.
Britain once hotly debated whether or not to cast the 1,000 year old medieval relic of the Corporation into the dustbin. By the time of municipal reform fervor at the height of Victorian empire (mid 1800’s), the City had long been seen by the radical left as “the home of the devilry of modern finance”, a century before it became the tax haven black hole of Earth. Rising British socialism went to the mat to destroy the Corporation, losing a public PR battle in the 1880’s won largely by the pomp & circumstance of the Lord Mayor’s Show parade. By 1890, the City killed parliamentary legislation aimed at it for good, convincing Britain, with a parade, that empire was a shared glory, rich to poor.
The City’s survival fight was thus over by the founding of the Labour Party in 1900. Nonetheless, Labour Party general election manifestos regularly proposed the abolition of the City of London as a political entity, disappearing by World War II. New Labour by 2000 made the Corporation of the City of London a crown jewel of neoliberal fake democracy, as financial crises boiled in its spider’s web of tax havens, regularly exploding. The role of City of London tax havens is central to the 2008 crisis, as it will be in the next.
Corbyn has pointedly not proposed the abolition of the Corporation in his first manifesto as Labour leader in 2017. Not because Corbyn is unaware; the Corbyn wing of Labour has long known the history of Labour and the City. Corbyn’s current shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is one of those quoted in Nicholas Shaxson’s landmark 2011 book on tax havens, Treasure Islands. Shaxson’s book inspired Michael Oswald’s new film, The Spider’s Web.
Oswald’s quick 78 minute romp through Britain’s second empire is an excellent introduction to the casual observer, and may even be the first such film to dig this deep into the City’s tax haven archipelago. Eye candy helps with such a complicated topic, and Oswald provides plenty to help the radical medicine go down. Beautifully shot exotic island landscapes soothe as worshipful whatnots in British frippery parade to a haunting soundtrack letting you know nothing is as it seems when a thousand year old medieval ghost governs world finance.
Corbyn appears to be, bite my tongue…compromising? By clearly refusing to promise the end of the Corporation of the City of London, Corbyn may be reaching out to the New Labour refuseniks. Or, he may be sending a warning. Will the next Labour manifesto, the one that makes Corbyn prime minister, advocate abolition of the Corporation? Oswald’s film will help build awareness of the issue at the grassroots, so the next time Corbyn has to make this decision, the movement chanting his name in soccer chants will know quite well which direction Corbyn, Labour, and Britain should go.
In that effort, I’m holding a free screening of The Spider’s Web, Tuesday night, November 14, at the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus (CCPC) office in Lakewood, 11910 Detroit. RSVP on FB here. For more, here’s my 2015 paper on the City for the CSU MAGI program. Hope to see you at the CCPC office. I’ll be making Pimms.