As Elizabeth II takes to the throne in the House of Lords for the Queen’s Speech today, a little-known figure will be taking his special seat close by – all the better to scrutinise every new piece of legislation for how it benefits or damages the banks.
He’s the only non-MP or civil servant with a seat in the House of Lords and House of Commons.
His job dates back to Henry VIII.
He has a budget of £5.3million, a staff bill of £500,000 – including a team of six lawyers – and he represents bankers’ interests at the heart of our democracy.
He’s called The Remembrancer.
And – as the banks get away scot free and disabled people pay for the banking crisis, as millionaires get tax cuts while poor people get taxed on how many bedrooms they have – a new campaign by pressure group Avaaz called “Kick Bankers Out of Parliament” is beginning to ask exactly why he’s still allowed the special privileges he has.
The shortest explanation is this: over 1,000 years, kings, queens and governments have been saved by loans from the City of London – the 1.2 square miles at the heart of Britain’s financial centre.
In exchange the City of London has extracted great privileges that still distort our democracy.
The current Remembrancer is a man called Paul Double, a former barrister.
He has held the post since 2003 but has never done any interviews about his role. A few weeks ago I contacted the City of London to ask for one.
They took several days to reply, during which Margaret Thatcher died – and then said he was busy with arrangements around her funeral, which took place inside City of London jurisdiction.
One of the Remembrancer’s roles is to appear at a ceremony involving a red cord on the City’s boundary whenever the Queen makes a “state entry” as she did for the funeral.
This, as it turns out, is one of the Remembrancer’s less troubling duties.
Nicholas Shaxson, who wrote the brilliant investigation into the City of London, Treasure Islands, calls him the “world’s oldest institutional lobbyist”.
As if having 18 millionaires in the Cabinet isn’t enough to advance big money’s interests, when Parliament is sitting he has a special seat to the right of the Speaker in the House of Commons.
He also has a mirror image seat in the Lords.
Shaxson says a previous Remembrancer boasted his role was to “oppose every bill which would interfere with the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Corporation”.
The post dates back to some trouble the City had with Henry VIII’s adviser Cardinal Wolsey commandeering the armour and plate of its livery companies.
In 1571, it created the post of Remembrancer to “remind the king of his debt” and make sure the City’s interests were never again affected by Parliament.
Paul Double’s modern-day role is officially described as “looking after the City of London Corporation’s interests in Parliament”.
The Corporation is the governing body of the City of London. It’s an elected body, but unlike your usual local council, it’s not just residents that vote, it’s businesses – including over 500 banks.
Its boss is the Lord Mayor – not to be confused with London Mayor Boris Johnson who presides over the Greater London Authority.
Mind you, the City’s Remembrancer, also “tracks the work of” the GLA.
In February, he went to Buckingham Palace to be made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order by Prince Charles – as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Honours.
Last year, The Bureau for Investigative Journalism showed the Remembrancer’s Office had submitted evidence to 16 separate select committees in the past 18 months, including the Treasury’s Tax Principles report.
The City of London press office said they hoped I wasn’t going to write a piece about how “mysterious” the Remembrancer is.
I replied that an interview would definitely stop him being mysterious, but my follow-up requests have been ignored.
As the ConDems’ savage cuts deepen and it becomes ever clearer who is paying the price of austerity – not the bankers who caused it but the ordinary people of Britain – Avaaz’s campaign to abolish the Remembrancer’s special privileges couldn’t be more timely.
This is no longer the era of Cardinal Wolsey, or of Wat Tyler, the peasant leader killed by the Lord Mayor and his men after challenging the City’s might.
We are no longer serfs who have to suffer an unelected vested interest at the heart of our democracy.
We have the right to tell the City to start lobbying like any other special interest group and give up its privileged status.
Like punishing those responsible for the bank crisis, abolishing The Remembrancer’s privileges would send a message to the City and banks that the most vulnerable will not pay any more for their mess.
“Over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster,”
Clement Attlee complained bitterly of “those who control money” in 1937. More than 75 years on his words have never rung more true.