“Did you see that Avazz launched a campaign?”
“Did you see that Avazz launched a campaign to get rid of the City Remembrancer?”
Only a few years ago the question would not have been asked, let alone understood. It is refreshing to see such attention given to the shadowy Corporation of London over the past few years, and Michael Chanan and I are pleased that our film, Secret City, has played its part in raising awareness of this institution.
Since its Parliamentary screening in October, we have travelled the country and abroad, screening from Dublin to Lancaster and London to Exeter. The film is an investigation into the history and constitution of the City of London, focusing on the Corporation that runs it and its role in the ongoing economic crisis.
As a piece of investigative research by two academics, the film has been pitched as “research as practice”, a method of recognising the diverse ways of presenting research in today’s media world. As such the pernicious requirement of government policy on university research judges the research by its “impact”.
The trope of impact is intended as a control mechanism for academic research, to fit with the economic imperatives of state, an Orwellian proposal if ever there was one! While there are some concessions to social impact and community cohesion, it is unlikely that effectively promoting reform or abolition of one of the key nodes of global capitalist power was what they intended as “impact”.
In one sense, our aim in terms of impact is simply to tell a story [of a history, and a story] of an institution and its relations that simply doesn’t get told. Awareness is our impact. At screenings we point out that it is not for us to provide a solution to the pernicious grip the Corporation holds over this country. It is up to the people to decide what to do.
At the same time, however, with the clear and incontrovertible evidence of the corrupting influence of the Corporation on politics, economics and culture, and with the clear relation between its demand for financial deregulation in the 1980s and the crisis today, there has perhaps never been more pertinent a moment to demand change.
The ongoing economic crisis has created the conditions under which the Corporation and City must be looked at again. Most recently two proposals, to introduce the Tobin Tax and to cap the astronomical pay of failing bankers (while more hard working nurses struggle to pay their bills) have been introduced across Europe to no economic or political detriment. Instead the City and its allies in the Tory party demanded that pensioners, the disabled and unemployed should suffer rather than introduce some very moderate reforms on the financial sector that caused this mess in the first place.
The problem, though, is that the political institutions that might make the change have themselves been corrupted. None of the major political parties are committed to abolishing or even reforming this aberration of democratic constitution apart from the Green Party, which has made it a manifesto promise. The Labour party missed its historic opportunity when it let the Corporation reform itself in 2002.
So the question is, where and how might the film gain political impact in the form of policy change? In the first instance, we’re screening at Labour Party meetings to remind the members and party activists of the roots of inequality and political corruption. To this end we are hoping that our screening at the Labour Representation Committee meeting at the Brighton Fringe in May will prompt debate within the party.
Another route is Europe. We’ve had the film translated into German, French, Spanish and Italian with the view to screening around Europe and hopefully in Brussels itself. We hope the film will help people from around Europe to better understand Britain’s intransigent attitude to Europe. Britain’s European policy not simply a matter of culture, Parliamentary sovereignty or the design of bank notes. Rather, the global financial interests of the City drive British policy.
Perhaps this realisation will lead other European states, and the EU itself to challenge the undemocratic basis of Britain’s relationship to Europe and especially its economic and financial policy.
Should the film play a role in the process of reform or abolition of the Corporation and a taming of financial capitalism, we will have achieved a crucial effect. Yet if its main achievement is to continue to shine a light on this dark corner of the British constitution, leading or assisting others, such as the newly formed City Reform Group, to campaign more effectively, it would be an impact worth having.