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23 November 2013

The Lord Mayor’s Show

Tag(s): Languages & Culture, People
This month, for the first time, I had the opportunity to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Show. I have frequently been a spectator but never had the chance to take part before. This came about principally because Sir Paul Judge, a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors, of which I am presently Junior Warden, was this year installed as the Aldermanic Sheriff and so had his own carriage in the Show. In addition this meant that our Livery Company, his mother company, was also allocated a shrieval carriage in support, in which travelled the Master, Senior Warden, Middle Warden and Learned Clerk. It then fell to me to take over the Marketors’ own float as Person-in-charge.

We have entered a separate float for three years now and this year set out to embody the Master’s Theme: ‘Great Brands make Britain Great’. My idea was to represent this with pack shots of very familiar brands of British origin that would be instantly recognisable to young and old alike. We would source these from the Museum of Packaging and Brands whose Chief Executive, Chris Griffin, was recently admitted to the Worshipful Company. It so happens that Sir Paul is also Chairman of the Museum. When we discussed this with the excellent company who build our float, Sign Specialists of Redditch, they thought it would add something if some of these images could be three-dimensional. They happen to have two superb looking models of the Jaguar symbol which they were willing to use and they set out to build the others. In the end we were able to show FMCG brands, Colman’s Mustard, HP sauce, Marmite and Johnny Walker with durable brands, British Airways, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce.

At the back we showed a larger than life pictorial of Sir Paul with congratulations from four bodies with which he has had associations: The Chartered Institute of Marketing of which he is President, St Dunstan’s of which he is Chair of Governors, the Museum and the Worshipful Company of Marketors. We also have an affiliation with St Dunstan’s and their marching band preceded us while their Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher and three prefects joined three fellow Marketors and myself on the float.

The Lord Mayor’s Show marks the installation of a new Lord Mayor and is always held on the second Saturday in November. It dates back to the 13th century and follows a three-mile route from Guildhall to St Paul’s Cathedral and on to the Royal Courts of Justice before returning along Victoria Embankment to Mansion House which becomes the home of the Lord Mayor for her year in office. This year Alderman Fiona Woolf became the 686th Lord Mayor in history and only the second woman in that time. But as she says she is used to being the second woman in a role, she was previously the second female President of the Law Society, and this gives her encouragement as it shows it can be sustained!

The day before I had been privileged to witness her sworn in as the Lord Mayor in the so-called Silent Ceremony. It is almost entirely silent except for the oath of office taken by the new Lord Mayor. The rest involves the ceremonial transfer of the various symbols of office from the old Lord Mayor to the new. The language of the City can be arcane and once a Lord Mayor has passed the chair he is known as the Late Lord Mayor.

For many people, perhaps most, all of this may seem confusing because they think that surely London already has a Mayor, currently the irrepressible Boris Johnson. That’s true but the positions are quite different. The position of Mayor of London was created on 4th May 2000 following a referendum on devolution. In last week’s blog I wrote about the importance of elected mayors in cities and I believe they can be a power for good. The Mayor of London is responsible for the whole of Greater London including the City of London but within the City itself the Lord Mayor is the head of the City of London Corporation, which provides local services (including policing) for the Square Mile. She presides over its governing bodies: the Court of Aldermen, from whose ranks the Lord Mayor is elected, and the Court of Common Council, the City of London’s decision making body.

Within the City of London, only the Sovereign takes precedence over the Lord Mayor. While in office Lord Mayor Woolf will act as host for visiting heads of state and dignitaries. She will also welcome the Prime Minister to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Bankers’ Dinner. While both are enormously important events in the political calendar – when ‘state of the nation’ speeches are expected from the country’s leading politicians – the Lord Mayor’s position is actually non-political.

This impartiality is vital for the diplomatic element of her year in office because, as well as representing the Sovereign and the City in the UK, the Lord Mayor spends around 90 days abroad promoting the City and UK trade and business. Working closely with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and also UKTI, in her ambassadorial role Lord Mayor Woolf will visit between 25 and 30 countries during her year in office. The focus is on fostering goodwill and boosting British trade, not just the markets and services in the City. Much is made of the occasional trade mission that the Prime Minister makes to an emerging market like China, India or Brazil but the Lord Mayor will do all this and very much more.

Her own expertise is in the Law and she advised first on the privatisation of British utilities and then on similar arrangements working in 40 countries. She plans to promote British expertise in services not just for city based firms and indeed one of her first visits is to Edinburgh to liaise with that city’s excellent range of financial and professional service firms. It is expected that she will make approximately 700 speeches in the year and some 50,000 people will visit her official residence, Mansion House, of whom I expect to be one on a number of occasions.

But back to the Show. There were 155 floats in this year’s Show covering it seems every conceivable range of human activity. They are called floats because originally the Show took place on the river when the roads were scarcely passable. Once they came on land the name stuck. Many of the floats involve the Livery Companies and many of those involve some charitable activity. After all, taken together the Livery Companies represent the largest philanthropic movement in the whole of Europe. Many too involve the military because there is a long standing tradition of support from the City to the military; it used to largely finance it. Today the relationship is more about how the Livery Companies can help individual regiments with some of their non-military activities. In our case we have a relationship with 151 regiment, which was also in the Show. It is London’s only logistics regiment and is mainly made up of reservists. Nearly a third of all the floats were military in one sense or another thus making it the largest military procession in the land.

But as well as Livery Companies and other City officials in their finery, and  Regiments with their marching bands, there were also various charities operating independently, Bolivian dancers, and representatives from other countries promoting themselves like Hong Kong. The Tour de France promoted the fact it will be partly in Yorkshire next year. Various schools were represented and the large presence of children, both in the procession and in the crowd, was one of the most exciting things about the Show.

In reporting the Show the following morning the Sunday Telegraph said that 7,000 performers had taken part and indeed that is how it felt. Everyone on my float and as far as I could see everyone else, unless they were playing a musical instrument, waved vigorously at the crowdsall along the route. Hundreds of thousands came out to watch, many arriving early in the morning to get a good vantage point. This particular Saturday it was forecast to rain and the rain started just as the procession did. It was also quite cold and once we were under weigh we could not get off until the end so hot drinks were not really advisable. But, nevertheless, the mood never dampened or cooled, the atmosphere was one of continuous joy and my waving arm ached for hours afterwards. It had taken quite an effort to put on such show, but I for one will never forget it. And we got our 3 seconds of fame as that was the time the float was covered live on BBC television.

Just before the very end I broke the rules and asked our driver to let me off so I could double back to Mansion House where my wife was watching the Show. I got there in time to see the new Lord Mayor be greeted at her new home and then we all went inside for a very relaxed lunch. I have been in the Egyptian Room many times but always on formal occasions. Here the atmosphere was informal and the new Lord Mayor and her consort were showing off their very young grandchildren.

Her theme for the year is ‘The Energy of Life’ and though this is supposed to be inspired by her experience privatising utilities I wonder if the kids had something to do with it too.

Copyright David C Pearson 2013 All rights reserved

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