The City now has its 689th lord mayor. On Saturday, Andrew Parmley donned the traditional finery and paraded through the City in the magnificent State Coach that has carried his predecessors every year since 1757.
The Lord Mayor’s Parade is one the most public-facing elements of the City of London Corporation, which can lay claim to being the world’s oldest continuously-elected local government authority.
The Corporation is steeped in tradition but along with the history and the ancient rituals it also serves as a thoroughly modern local government with responsibilities for schools, housing, roads, planning, property and 94 miles of the Thames. It isn’t easy to maintain the balance between tradition, democracy and modernity, but doing so has been key to the survival of the institution – which has seen off various attempts by politicians over the years to clip its wings or bring it under the control of central government.
The lord mayor acts as an ambassador for the City, promoting London’s financial and professional services all over the world. This role has taken on a renewed significance in light of the Brexit vote, and the holder of this office cannot have a deaf ear to domestic (and international) political developments. Theresa May is in the City tonight, speaking alongside the lord mayor at the Guildhall where she will reiterate her desire to bring about a form of economic growth that, as she puts it, will benefit the many – not the few.
Parmley, a teacher by background, will pick up this challenge by promoting efforts to open up the City to more apprenticeships while encouraging investment in education. Over the course of his time in office he will make nearly 30 overseas visits, but his trips around the UK will be just as important.
The UK’s economic health is intrinsically linked to the health of the City, but it is also vital to remember that financial and professional services (and the millions of jobs they sustain) are dependent on cities such as Leeds, Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester. It’s easy for outsiders to mistake the Corporation for a relic – with its wigs, robes, chains and traditions – but in truth it would not have survived for 1,000 years if it didn’t keep its eyes fixed on the future.