Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Secret City

City of London - London City.

Originally founded by the Romans as a maritime centre, The City of London, a city within city, is a unique place and not just because I was born there but because of its financial control, not only of the UK but also over most of the world. It’s one of the worlds major business and financial centres and vies with New York as the financial capital of the world. A great many institutions have there headquarters there, The London Stock Exchange, Lloyds of London and the Bank of England are all based there, as are over 500 banks that have offices in the city as well as other major global companies who also have there headquarters there including Aviva, BT Group, Old Mutual, Prudential, Standard Chartered Unilever and Ernst and Young one of the big four accounting firms. For an area that does not cover much more than a square mile it’s quite impressive. The daytime population is in the region of 330000 but when these have gone home the population shrinks to just over 7000.

Some people are even born there!
Directed by Michael Chanan and written by Lee Salter the documentary Secret City (2012) was shown at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre with the director in attendance to introduce the film and take a Q&A session after the screening. But before the main feature we were treated to a short film called A Short Film About Money that was a spin-off from the documentary to prompt thought on what money actually is and ended by announcing that Goldman Sacks rules the world!

It was when anti-capitalist protesters were ejected from outside the Stock Exchange in Paternoster Square and set themselves up in front of St Pauls Cathedral that provided the spark for this documentary to be made. The idea behind Secret City is to provoke debate, not necessary about the City itself but about the power it wields and the dominant body that controls the power. The City of London Corporation is an ancient body that dates back before there was a parliament in Westminster. It claims to be the world’s oldest continuously elected local government body. As well as the residents of the Square Mile the businesses are entitled to vote in elections something that’s not general known even by the people that work in the vast corporations. Its structure includes the Lord Mayor, nothing to do with Boris Johnson’s post as Lord Mayor of London, the Court of Alderman, the Court of Common Council and Freemen and Livery of the City. This influential body zealously guards its autonomy and privileges to this day.
Anti-capitalist protesters outside St Pauls Cathedral. 
The documentary was premiered on the 16th October 2012 at the Houses of Parliament at the invitation of John McDonnell MP who also appears in the film along with many other interesting talking heads. Michael Chanan who has been a documentary maker since 1971 is also a music critic, an author, editor and translator of books and articles on film subjects including early and Cuban cinema, he informed a very lively audience that he had been involved in between 70 and 80 screening of the documentary to date. The finance involved in making the film was virtually nothing, the only expense was fees for archive rights which was funded by the University of Roehampton (where Chanan is a Professor of Film and Video), there is no commercial distributor and the director explained that the main reason for making the film was to encourage debate about the City and the rather secretive corporation that runs it and not to offer alternatives. When asked why he did not include an opposing view he quite simple answered that he had no intention in giving rich capitalist yet another platform to spout their platitudes. He explained that the corporation held immense lobbying power over the British government and in his view it was the city that dictated the financial policy of this country and not the elected UK government (I always thought it was the IMF?) and it was the City that did not want to join the euro but at present were undecided over whether to stay in Europe? It’s also in this part of London that the prices are set for the world’s commodities. This hub of global capitalist power is almost impossible to contest and was made more secure by Thatcher and her deregulation. Which in turn enables the City to control the world’s tax havens. Michael opined that the taxation deficit could be abolished if big business paid there legitimate taxes rather than channel monies into the havens. We went on to discuss odious debt, which is a debt incurred that in international law we as a nation have no responsibility for and could refuse to pay if it was incurred by a government for purposes that did not serve the best interests of the nation and its people. Which could be a useful concept if as Michael said this country comes to its socialist senses and finally elects a government that puts its people before big business.

Finally a documentary that’s deliberately kept short (72 minutes) to allow time for debate following its screening, one that does not continually repeat itself and one which manages to hold your attention. A fascinating film that attempted to open up the secrets of a very controlling financial institution.

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