Wednesday, 29 June 2011


To Guildhall on Friday morning to attend Common Hall for the election of the two Sheriffs and a number of other City officers including the Auditors and the more romantically titled Ale Connors and Bridgemasters.  Every liveryman has a vote.  It was thus a very crowded affair.  Not only was Guildhall's main hall full to capacity but two other adjacent rooms were packed out as well.  In all some 1300 members of the livery were present.  The masters of the 108 companies attend fully robed, entering and leaving Guildhall in a colourful snake.  The Great Twelve masters sit on the dais with the Aldermen, City officials as well as the candidates and their agents.  Although smartly carpeted these days the floors are strewn with scented lavendar to recollect the days when the City was a lot less sanitary.

The ceremony is probably the last surviving where one gets a sense of the public elections that existed before the Great Reform Act of 1832.  The rituals of describing the course of the election in a loud and determined manner by bewigged officials, the candidates making appeals for support and why they should be given the vote and finally a show of hands for each candidate in turn to shouts of 'All'. The only thing missing are the Hogarthesque additions of free flowing ale, outbreaks of fisticuffs, open bribery and the yeomanry ready to ride in an quell any disturbance.  It is much more genteel and honest these days.

The election of the two Sheriffs was the principal focus of interest.  Each Sheriff has similar duties and both spend their year of office based at the Old Bailey. However their subsequent civic careers are different.  One Sheriff is known as the Aldermanic Sheriff and is a junior Alderman standing with the expectation that, after serving, he/she will subsequently be considered for Lord Mayor.  The other appointment, the Lay Sheriff, represents the livery and although sometimes a common councillor of the City this is not a mandatory requirement.  Election to be Lay Sheriff does come with the expectation of further advancement.

This year there was one candidate for Aldermanic Sheriff: Alderman Alan Yarrow, but three for Lay Sheriff: Nick Bonham, Wendy Mead and Andrew Whitton. Readers of this blog will know that I am a supporter of Andrew Whitton but I fear that my support, including blog posts, was not sufficient to make a major difference.  The final count of votes showed Wendy Mead in the lead with 550, Nick Bonham second with 505 and, finally, Andrew with 194. 

The current rules meant that there was no clear result as the leader was not 10% of the total votes cast ahead of the second placed candidate.  So there will be a second round of voting at Guildhall, this time using the more conventional ballot box, on Friday 8 July.  Andrew has done the honorable thing and withdrawn - although for technical reasons his name still appears on the ballot papers - and there will now be a two cornered contest.  I shall not declare my voting intention as to do so would be to embark on a 'party political.' I shall however write after the voting next week with further thoughts and observations.

Incidentally the Ale Connors, Bridgemasters and Auditors were all elected unopposed  Somewhere in the proceedings we were also taken through the Report of the Livery Committee but this was a little-regarded vignette to the main purpose of the morning.

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